History and Applications of Photography
in the Toronto Police Service, January 17, 2007

Larry O'Grady

Larry O'Grady

An interest in microscopes led me to many books on the subject including some on forensics and biographies of famous coroners, so I was looking forward to the talk by Larry O'Grady on the evolution of the photographic element of forensics in our Toronto Police "Forensic Identification Services". I was not disappointed. Larry combines an effective speaking presence, a sense of history, and experience both as a commercial photographer and a forensic photo technician. - Bob Carter

Like most guest speakers today, Larry uses PowerPoint on his laptop. His talk starts back in 1867 when the Criminal Identification Bureau (CIB) was formed within the Toronto Police Force. CIB recorded the name, address, crime, sentence, and physical description of each convicted criminal (Toronto was a small town then and members of the criminal element could usually be found in and around the saloons of the day).

Speed Graphic - mid 20th century work-horse
Speed Graphic - the mid 20th century work-horse
Larry O'Grady

Two decades later the written records were augmented by photographs of the convicted criminals - a “Rogue Gallery”. The gallery contents were organized and indexed under the guidance of a Detective William Stark. The photographs were joined by the short lived Bertillon method of "signalment". Invented by Bertillon of Paris, the method depended on the accurate measurement of specific parts of a suspect's body and limbs. In 1906 fingerprinting was introduced offering an identification method that did not rely on precise body measurements - and fingerprints could be linked to tell-tale marks left at the scene of the crime! 

Around 1914, police constable Hedley Ashley recorded the impact of a lack of sufficient photographic equipment, citing one case where the glass from a skylight had to be removed and taken to the CIB at city hall to be photographed as there were "no appliances available  to operate outside headquarters". 1920 minutes of the police board record approval to acquire the necessary equipment for photography and fingerprinting. PC David Pringle established the copying of photographs on descriptive coded data cards creating the world's first identification system.

fingerprints demand fine resolution imaging
fingerprints demand
fine resolution
footwear shots need fine resolution too

In 1931 the CIB moved from city hall to facilities at 149 College Street. A formal system of registration was established specifying that all persons in custody must be fingerprinted and photographed. Shortly after its inception, it held records for 26,440 individuals, half of whom were repeat offenders.

 Photographs began to appear in court to substantiate statements by witnesses. Thorough the 1940s and 50s detectives collected evidence at the scene while the Criminal Identification Bureau forensic team dusted for fingerprints and took official photographs - at least four - one at each corner of the room or area. The CIB officers photographed scenes of serious crime such as murder and automobile accidents where manslaughter was involved. They supplied photos for the court showing the actual body at the scene, and details of the body and locale. By 1946 the CIB had six officers who took, processed and filed an average of 3,000 photos a year providing copies to the case officer, the crown, and the defending lawyer. In 1947 the photography department was remodelled and provided with up-to-date equipment including alternative light sources for examining and photographing documents.

footwear shots need
fine resolution too
capturing evidence
scene of the crime - mid 20th century scene of the crime - mid 20th century scene of the crime - mid 20th century scene of the crime - mid 20th century scene of the crime - mid 20th century
capturing evidence
Scene of the crime shots from mid 20th century Toronto when B&W was the standard
hazards of the trade

The 1960s and 70s were a time of shared equipment (shift kits). Medium (120) format was widely used and along with 4x5 were the preferred formats for capturing fingerprints. With the variety of equipment offered, an officer could use whatever he found most comfortable - even 35mm. Regardless of the format, all photos were shot in B&W. The larger formats had the advantage of allowing cropped 5x7 enlargements depicting areas of interest. The Ident officer decided what scenes to record and how many images to take. He then processed and printed the film, even deciding which or how many photos would subsequently appear in court. 

Fingerprints and footwear (shoe prints) need high resolution to capture as much detail as possible. Extensive testing was done to prove that 35mm was an acceptable alternative for larger formats. All fingerprint shots were bracketed and five prints made and submitted to the RCMP. Lock ups were co-located in the same division as the district identification bureau so the identification officer could operate and maintain the Coleman Beatty prisoner cameras. They used non-perforated 35mm B&W film which had room to ink in the associated prisoner number along the bottom edge of the negative. In 1975 the CIB began replacing the descriptive coded data cards with IBM aperture cards that had an acetate pocket to hold a photograph. New technology was added to manage these aperture cards.

hazards of the trade
processing in the Police lab
processing in the
Police lab
automated processors were used

In time 35mm became the norm for crime scene photos with the occasional choice of 120 format. Colour was slow to gain acceptance as it was felt to be too graphic and might unduly inflame juries. As early as 1972 colour was accepted in court to better show victim injuries. In 1985 colour was finally accepted as a replacement for the traditional B&W photos. Considerable effort was taken to choose film that would provide enlarged images with fine detail and accurate colours. Kodak Gold at 200 ISO was preferred with both 400 ISO and 800 ISO occasionally used. Even roll sizes were evaluated with 12 and 8 shot rolls often chosen over the commercially popular 24 and 36 exposure rolls. 

It took a lot of effort to keep the shift kits in working order - often they had missing or damaged pieces. This was remedied in 1989 when the Police service provided individual kits for each officer. The first camera chosen (some still in use today) was the Contax 167MT with wide-angle and macro lenses. Years later FIS moved on to the Nikon F801 camera with a medium zoom lens. A 4x5 camera was still the preferred instrument for recording fingerprint and footwear evidence on Tri-X Ortho and later T-Max fine grain B&W film. The wide spread use of 35mm led to taking many more exposures at the crime scene while the examination of the crime scene became more intricate and complex with the introduction of DNA technology.

automated processors
were used
modern day scene of crime investigation
modern day scene of crime investigation
modern day scene of
crime investigation

A number of changes were made in the mid 1990s. The district Forensics units were centralized at headquarters on College Street and a database was established to keep track of all crimes scenes attended. A Scene of Crime Officer (SOCO) program was started with uniformed officers in patrol cars trained by the FIS personnel and equipped with cameras chosen for fast and easy operation. The SOCO photographed domestic assault victims, break and enters, shop breaks, and other lesser crimes. 

The new headquarters photo lab had seven darkrooms doing colour and B&W including push processing and archival quality printing. It took three or four hours to process the average day's volume of 150 rolls. As the annual volume increased modern high speed processing machines were added. From the full set of prints a very small number would eventually be used in court. By 1999 the lab had switched to mini-lab processors - the first film processor wore out in less than three months! 

Fortunately, as processing demand and costs grew, the digital revolution reached the point where the images satisfied law enforcement requirements and in 2004 the first two divisions in Toronto went digital reducing the annual processing load by 10,000 rolls. The business case for digital highlighted benefits beyond the cost savings: SOCOs had instant feedback from the digital cameras, data asset management was improved; case managers will be able to review all images online and order the few prints needed for court; and the chemical exposure to lab staff was reduced.

using a special light source on a document
using a special light
source on a document
SOCO Nikon F50 film camera digital comes to the SOCOs - Nikon Coolpix 5400 digital comes to the SOCOs - Ricoh Caplio digital comes to the SOCOs - Ricoh Caplio FIS Olympus Evolt digital camera
FIS uses the Olympus
digital Evolt
SOCO cameras - Film: Nikon F50 - Digital: Nikon Coolpix and later Ricoh Caplio

The FIS digital photographic kits were based on the 8 megapixel Olympus Evolt 300 and 330 cameras and accessories including flash, medium zoom lens, and a fixed focal length macro. SOCOs were equipped with the popular Nikon Coolpix 5400 with the articulated viewing screen allowing photos to be taken under counters and tables and close to ground with ease. These cameras were recently replaced with the Ricoh Caplio 500G camera that is rugged, waterproof, and complete with an anti-shake medium zoom lens. The controls are large and utilitarian making it easier to take good photos with ease.

Today's Photo Lab, now located on Jane Street, features a high speed Noritsu photo printer and four computer workstations equipped with modern imaging software. A C41 colour film processor and two small traditional darkrooms accommodate the remaining film-based processing. A photo imaging network  completes the digital transition making it easy to search, find, and view photos and order prints from facilities throughout the city. Tight security restricts who can view and order which images. Backup and archival processes ensure images will be available for many years. Special technologies and security provide the means to prevent undetected image manipulation.

a legacy chemical darkroom
computers replace the darkroom and enlarger
computers replace the darkroom and enlarger
Computers have replaced the darkroom and enlargers - except for a couple of legacy chemical darkrooms.

Images on this page were adjusted in Photoshop CS2 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V1. Contents and most presentation images are ©2007 Larry O'Grady and cannot be used with out his permission. Most of the other images were taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and are ©2007 PHSC. All PHSC images may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Contact PHSC if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Click on most of the small images to see a larger version in a separate window.

Bob Carter

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