Cameras see more than skin deep
WILLMAR -- Like a relationship that looks OK on the outside but is deeply troubled under the surface, the physical bruises of victims of domestic violence may also be difficult to see.
WILLMAR –– Like a relationship that looks OK on the outside but is deeply troubled under the surface, the physical bruises of victims of domestic violence may also be difficult to see.
Without evidence of abuse, perpetrators can go uncharged and victims remain at risk.
But a new camera that is able to detect below-the-surface bruises, as well as the presence of bodily fluids, could help law enforcement get evidence for domestic abuse and sexual assault cases.
“It will be another nice tool,” said Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog.
The county was recently awarded a $78,300 grant from the Minnesota Office of Justice that’s earmarked for violence against women prevention projects.
The two-year grant will be used to purchase eight Illumacam-2 cameras that will be used by the sheriff’s office, Willmar Police Department and emergency room staff at Rice Memorial Hospital.
The cameras, which cost $3,000 each, features a light source that uses different wavelengths and light spectrums to detect biological fluid, bruising and other trace evidence, said Stephanie Felt, who wrote the grant and will be coordinating the project.
“It’ll make certain evidence fluoresce,” she said.
The grant will also pay for training on how to use the cameras that will be presented by a forensic photographer from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The camera features advanced technology but “it’s only as good as how well you’re trained,” Felt said.
A trainer from California will conduct training in Willmar on strangulation.
Law enforcement considers strangulation a key marker for potential homicide, Felt said, which is why law enforcement and hospital ER workers who are on the front-line of domestic and sexual assault, need good technology and training.
Sometimes bruising from strangulation is hard to see or may not show up for several days. The new cameras can photograph and document evidence that may not be initially visible.
The grant will also cover costs for special training on stalking.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime nearly 90 percent of “femicide” victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder.
“Victims of stalking can be in grave danger” Felt said.
Without visible physical marks, or even if the victim has just a slight redness on the skin, domestic violence can turn into a he-said-she-said case that’s difficult to prosecute, said Kandiyohi County Attorney Shane Baker.
The camera could also be used with victims who are not able to speak for themselves, such as young children.
The new cameras, which are reportedly being used by a handful of law enforcement agencies across the country, can detect and photograph bruises and fluids that may not be visible to the naked eye, he said.
Baker said he’s not aware of other law enforcement entities in Minnesota using the special cameras.
“We’re ahead of the curve on these types of issues,” Baker said.
While doing research for the grant, Felt spoke with law enforcement in Indianapolis where the cameras are used. She was told that because the cameras and light source attachments are compact in size, they’re convenient for investigators to use.
Felt said oftentimes this kind of equipment is only available in metro areas. The grant made it possible for Kandiyohi County to get the cameras and the training that will “provide a better response to victims.”
The cameras are expected to arrive in January or February.