Hong Kong police to use 3D printers to help make crime scene models

But force admits the new technology will not entirely replace officers, who now build the models for major incidents such as the Luxor hot air balloon crash

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 12:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2017, 12:03am

Hong Kong’s police are to use two 3D printers to help make scale models of crime scenes for death inquests and crime investigations.

But the force said the advanced technology could not replace the craftsmanship of officers who now build the models with their own hands.

Since the police briefing support unit was established in 1988, it has built 18 scale models of aircraft and buildings for court inquests, such as a fatal gun attack in Kowloon Bay in 2014, the Luxor hot air balloon crash in 2013 and the Fa Yuen Street fire in 2011, which each killed nine Hongkongers, and the 2010 bus hostage drama in Manila, in which eight people from the city died.

Senior Inspector Chan Shun-wai said it would normally take up to a week to construct a model, and that the newly bought 3D printers, costing HK$10,000 each, could speed up production.

Citing the scale model showing all street stalls and buildings where the fourth-alarm fire broke out in Fa Yuen Street six years ago, Chan said using printers could save time by making large numbers of identical window frames and doors, but they could only serve as a tool to help manual work.

“We need printers to construct complex structures to show the accuracy of the architecture,” said Chan, who majored in architectural studies.

“The finished product made by the printer is simply a piece of plastic. How are we going to make the stall’s roof look like a real iron sheet? It still needs our handiwork to refine it.”

The scale model plays an important role in court as it helps witnesses correctly detail what happened during an incident. It can also test the authenticity of testimony and help coroners or judges to better understand the crime scene, especially when an incident took place outside Hong Kong.

Ku Chin-pang, superintendent and officer in charge of the briefing support unit, said members had to take pictures, do measurements and collect architectural plans of the surrounding area where major incidents took place.

When asked if 3D virtual reality computer images would be better than a real scale model, Ku said: “Can the witness say which direction he or she went after walking up the stairs, and the precise location he or she was at just by looking at the virtual scene? I have reservations.”

The unit is also an integral part of the force’s counterterrorism response mechanism. Its primary role includes constructing scale models to support operational planning and briefings about terrorist incidents.

Ku said the unit would recruit officers in the second half of the year to fill vacancies.