Thermal imaging article written by a cop

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Thermal imaging article written by a cop
Structure Profiles with a Thermal Imager
Looking for indoor marijuana grows

( (LE affiliated)
Updated: October 24th, 2007 03:14 AM EDT

Thermal Imaging Contributor

Believe it or not, the structure profile is probably the oldest and most common law enforcement application for a handheld thermal imager. It is also the most challenging application, due to a questionable Supreme Court ruling. However, the general notion is that you can use a thermal imager to help identify the presence of an indoor marijuana grow.

The Indoor Challenge

Growing plants indoors is not new, nor difficult. By bringing the soil inside (in a planter), regularly watering the plant, and allowing natural sunlight into the room, you can grow almost anything inside. The problem with growing marijuana inside, however, is that it's illegal (it's illegal outdoors too, but you get the point). And growers are greedy. Since it is illegal, they cannot grow plants near windows. Since they are greedy, they are not happy with just four or five plants.

Therein lays the pot grower's conundrum. He needs light, but cannot use natural light. Therefore, he has to use artificial light that simulates sunlight. Besides the tremendous amount of electricity this requires, it generates an overwhelming amount of heat. This is problematic for the grower, as marijuana does not grow well in hot environments.

So, the pot grower has to vent this excess heat somewhere outside the pot growing room. The greedier he is, the more plants he grows. The more plants he grows, the more lights he needs. The more lights he needs, the more heat he generates. The more heat he has, the more he has to vent. And, since the thermal imager sees can be a great tool to locate abnormal heat signatures on and around buildings.

By comparing a suspect structure to similar structures, you might see unusual heat build-up that indicates a grow room. Or, you might see strange heat patterns indicating the location and direction of vents. Either way, it can be another indicator in your investigation that the suspect is indeed growing marijuana.


Up until 2001, police officers could use a thermal imager to scan any home, farm, office, shed or other structure at their whim. Obviously, good police work dictates building sufficient probable cause to get an arrest or search warrant. Not only is it unethical, but it would also be a waste of time and effort to scan homes and buildings at random, just hoping to find odd heat patterns. As an investigator, you need to put in the time and effort to do things the proper way. The TI is not a shortcut to a good investigation; it's just a tool to help generate another piece of evidence.

That said, 2001 changed the thermal imaging landscape in the US. Erroneously stating that thermal imaging was a technology not available to the general public, and concerned that some unknown future technology might make it possible to see the intimate details of private life within the confines of a home's four walls, the Supreme Court banned a current technology that does not reveal the intimate details within a home.

Catch that? Yep, worried about something that does not yet exist that could see into a home, the justices decided to restrict a technology that does exist but does not see into a home. So, courtesy of Kyllo v. U.S., police officers must now obtain a search warrant prior to performing a thermal scan of a private dwelling. Notice, the Kyllo decision applies only to private dwellings, where the expectation of privacy is highest.

Now, some jurisdictions have required thermal search warrants for years. Some may now stretch the Kyllo decision to include businesses, outbuildings and the like. But as far as the U.S. Supreme Court cares, the warrant restriction applies only to scans of dwellings.

Ethical Use on Structures

As mentioned above, randomly scanning buildings to find a suspicious heat signature is wrong and a waste of resources. But once you have initiated a proper investigation into a suspect building, the TI can be part of the evidence you collect to prove your case.

Prior to scanning the suspect building, be sure you have your local prosecutors on board. Show them the technology; have them give their interpretation of the Kyllo decision. Demonstrate how the TI can help you gain additional evidence against the suspect without ever intruding into his personal space, or even stepping foot on his property.

Before you take the TI to the street on your first investigation, get formal training. One online article cannot even come close to giving you all the fundamentals necessary to legally and ethically perform a thermal scan of a structure. The Law Enforcement Thermographers' Association is the primary law enforcement trainer for TI use. Yes, I instruct for them. Yes, it's a plug. But, the reality is that if you plan to build indoor grow cases with a thermal imager, you need to be prepared for court. The LETA training is the only way I know to be certified and be ready.

Like every other thermal imaging application, the TI is not the silver bullet or ultimate tool. It is just one more tool in the toolbox that can help officers build a better case. Properly used, the TI can generate additional evidence to help secure the final search warrant, allowing you to go in and seize a lot of marijuana...and put a pot grower out of business.

(end story)

Jonathan Bastian is a police officer in Lexington, Kentucky. He works part time with Bullard as a Thermal Imaging Specialist and is certified through the Law Enforcement Thermographers Association (LETA) as a thermal imaging instructor. Jonathan has written dozens of articles and one book on the use of thermal imagers in public safety functions. He has over 15 years experience in public safety as a firefighter, EMT and police officer.
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
Thats deep man. I remember the ruling. I live in northern califorina, this part of the country have seen alot of house bust. I hear the getto birds flying certian times of the year. About a week are two you see on the news about the bust. I thought at first because of the court ruling somebody was telling the pigs. After reading you article I think they fly first then watch the place and then get the warant. They can't do it all year long because of funding. From what I'm seeing the funding comes at the end of the fiscal year. Thats when most of the bust happen here. So that new shit you can cover the walls with is worth it, if it works. The news tell you neeigheors, call police and report strange going on's next door. You know windows blacked out. People come and go at strange times, looks as though no one lives there. I've heard some thing that just don't add up. Like no one told police, neighbers didn't did'nt call, So it leaves you to belive they fly first then investagate then get the warrant. One thing I notice they only fly at night, so my thinking is run your lights in the day time, if you can. :x
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
I've searched with no luck for RELIABLE info regarding the Thermal Imaging and it's strengths/weaknesses. Anybody found good info regarding how it works, what exactly it shows and the weaknesses to take advantage of? Wondering if growing underground i.e. in a basement might work, or if that film is, in fact useful.
Listening to noise on a battery tapedeck, a Judas trainwreck, anonymous suspect, hovering in carbon monoxide cremations, loners waste away inside of vacant locations, think tanks empty international dreambank, plug in my reactor to the fallout zone.
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
Yellow 1351 wrote:Thats deep man. I remember the ruling. I live in northern califorina, this part of the country have seen alot of house bust. I hear the getto birds flying certian times of the year.I notice they only fly at night, so my thinking is run your lights in the day time, if you can. :x

i live 'nearby'... in my county the 'ghetto' birds they use infra-red to help during car chases, dont think its the same thingy as thermal imaging... this crap they need a warrant for, which means they would already have enough 'probable cause' to convince a judge..

in other words, you already fucked up when they decide to burn a shitload of jet fuel for more evidence.. i find it hard to believe, especially round these parts, they would waste fuel flying around neighborhoods for the hell of it or just cause some snitch 'told them so' prior...

i do worry about it though cause ive seen 4 or 5 'flybys' right over me.. 3 of them were during the day.,. interesting to note (also if your paranoid like myself at times) that the daylight runs could be that LEO understands most indoor grows would limit usage during nighttime..

ive read that just cause u turn them off at night doesnt mean they cant get a good signature during the day hours...
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
lmao this thread is a year old?

how come it came up so high on the post list on my screen?

oh well.. lol
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
Like someone said, that they don't understand how people get busted and all. And they think it was something to do with flybys. I think they could also have a satellite maybe? Who knows they got so much money in the government. But watch the news and know about technology. IF you ask me, growing underground maybe 5 feet under ground in a build underground bunker. But wide enough, and long enough. Oh and don't forget about 7 or 8 feet high for the lights and bucket and what not. Also you'd need a lot of power. I have seen 40,000watt generators. But you would need fuel to run this. It can be done just a lot of work, and the right brains to do this. Then the only problem you will have is being worried if the person you are dealing with, will snitch on you or not.
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
I grow underground... no heat signals here my room stays below 70 at all times :D
Thermal imaging article written by a cop
MysticBudda wrote:I grow underground... no heat signals here my room stays below 70 at all times :D

Basement? lol