Lawbreakers be warned: The Pima County Sheriff’s Department has a new high-tech crime-solving tool in its arsenal.

The department recently started using a 3-D laser scanner to map out crime scenes.

The Leica ScanStation C10 uses millions of points of information gathered by the laser, plus photos and computer-aided drafting software, to re-create a scene from different angles in a format that can be presented to jurors in court cases.

It’s a big leap forward from the 2-D GPS technology, which produces a diagram akin to a pencil drawing.

“In the past we’d use measuring tape and GPS” to diagram a scene, said Deputy Brett Bernstein, who has been trained to use the new technology. “This takes us to the next level.”

While the 2-D GPS system still will be used mostly for traffic incidents and larger, outdoor scenes, the laser scanner is at its optimum in enclosed areas where violent crimes have occurred, such as homes or businesses, Bernstein said.

If detectives are investigating an aggravated assault at a convenience store, for example, “as opposed to taking a few measurements, this will show every ripple in a bag of chips that is on a shelf,” Bernstein said.

The department began using the laser scanner three weeks ago, and it has already documented several scenes, including a fatal motorcycle crash.

“It really notices the most minute changes,” Bernstein said. In the case of the motorcycle crash, the laser scanner picked up scratches in the asphalt that likely wouldn’t have been seen otherwise.

“Our eyes might not be able to pick up these minute scratches, but the laser does,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department is the first law enforcement agency in Pima County to have this level of technology. The only other agency in Arizona using the Leica ScanStation is the Department of Public Safety in Phoenix.

The system cost $120,000, and the Sheriff’s Department and the Pima County Attorney’s Office shared the expense.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at or 573-4191.