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The snapshot: Recording a thousand words' worth of evidence

November 1, 2007
by Michael Amo, MS, CNHA, Kenneth T. Jones, and Niki Lee Rowe, MA, CALA, LMHC
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Last of a two-part series on the role of photography in facility investigations

In the first part of this series in the October issue, we looked at the reasons to use photography in long-term care investigations and the tools required to capture the scene. Now that you have secured your photography equipment and know how to use it, you are ready to examine photographic composition.

Understanding Photographic Composition Timing

The investigator must photographically document the event at the earliest practical point and with the least possible amount of disturbance to the scene. Upon discovery of the event and assuredly once the investigator arrives, nothing at the scene is to be moved unless it is for resident or staff safety. A good “all staff training” will teach the importance of protecting the scene. Remember that everything at the scene has a possible contribution to the investigation. Alternatively, if it is necessary to move an item, photograph it immediately and document why it was necessary to move or remove it, e.g., broken glass to prevent future injuries. Using this rule, investigative personnel can later state with certainty that the images depict the scene exactly as it was at the time of their arrival. As noted, there are reasonable exceptions to this rule. Along with safety issues, there may be a need to provide medical treatment to injured persons. Since treatment introduces associated items (e.g., bandage wrappings) that were not present when the event occurred, the investigator should note these exceptions in the narrative description of the scene and support the narrative with photographs.

Photographic Depictions

Items moved, removed, or introduced. Photograph the scene as found: This rule applies to all scenes. If something was moved before the investigator arrived, do not immediately place the item back into its appropriate position for photographic purposes. First, photograph the item in its new location. Then, place the object in its original position as described by the person who moved it and take another photograph. If an object was moved prior to the arrival of the investigator, photograph it in its new location. Then place the object in its original position as described by the person who moved it and take another photograph. (Again, good staff training will prepare staff members for these situations.) Note this in the photo log and on the sketch of the scene.

People at the scene. Do not include people in photos, unless the event occurred outside and there is a crowd. Then take a few pictures of the crowd. Photographs provide a visual record of the scene and evidence as found. They should not need verbal support.

Panoramic photographs. When photographing the scene, adhere to the NSEW (north, south, east, and west) model. Using a wide-angle lens, start at the entry point of the room (scene). Then, just as points in a compass, move around the scene to capture all reasonable vantages. Some investigators actually use a compass when photographing outdoor scenes, but within structures the four corners of the space are entirely appropriate. Take the photos from an eye-level perspective. It is important to show the scene as a witness might have observed it. This will help to show if a witness's view was clear or obstructed.

The purpose of panoramas is to capture the entire scene with a slight overlap from image to image. Digital cameras allow for review of each perspective before moving to the next to ensure that the overall scene is captured.

Immediate area photographs. A second set of photos capturing the immediate area of the event (the actual scene) may be necessary. This places the event in context and provides the orientation of pieces of evidence. Take a second set if the event occurred outside or within a larger area such as one corner of a large dining room. For example, in the dining room, photograph the entire room, and then photograph the smaller area of the actual event to place it within accurate context.

Item-specific photographs. Once panoramic and immediate area photos have been taken, capture individual relevant items close up, with and without scale (See Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management October 2007, p.32). Scale means to show relative size. The unscaled photograph can be used as a reference or may be needed if a court or hearing objects to the use of the selected scaling device. For example, if a resident slipped on a substance, take a photo of the substance. Conversely, if a patient slipped for no apparent environmental reason, photographically document the lack of substances.

Take close-up photographs from a distance of approximately 5 feet or less. Close-ups will give greater detail to specific objects and depict items that could not be adequately seen from the two previous ranges and items that need specific documentation.

When photographing specific objects or residents' physical conditions, first take unscaled photos and then take them using a scale (see figure) to show distance and size relationships. Scale means to show relative size. The unscaled photograph can be used as a reference or may be needed if a court or hearing objects to the use of the selected scaling device.

Document residents' physical conditions or specific objects by photographing unscaled, then using a scale like the one pictured above



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