Written Documentation at a Crime Scene

Mike Byrd
Miami-Dade Police Department
Crime Scene Investigations

In an Organized step by step approach Scene Documentation is one of the stages in the proper processing of a crime scene. The final results of a properly documented crime scene is the ability of others to take our finished product to use in either reconstructing the scene or the chain of events in an incident and our court room presentation. In documenting the scene there are actually 3 functions or methods used to properly document the crime scene. Those methods consist of written notes which will ultimately be used in constructing a final report, crime scene photographs, and a diagram or sketch. Consistency between each of these functions is paramount.

   See also the instructional video "Crime Scene Documentation"

Each method is important in the process of properly documenting the crime scene. The notes and reports should be done in a chronological order and should include no opinions, no analysis, or no conclusions. Just the facts!!!! The crime scene investigator or evidence recovery technician should document what he/she sees, not what he/she thinks. The final report should tell a descriptive story. A general description of the crime scene should be given just as the investigator sees it when he/she does the initial walk through of the scene.

Each department or agency has a method which they use for written documentation of the crime scene. There investigator/technician should follow his/her departments assigned procedures for written documentation. The importance of sharing information can never be over-looked. This article is intended to share ideas in the area of uniform documentation as an example of the format that is used by my department. We use a narrative section of the report divided it into 5 categories. The categories are summary, scene (including a detailed body description if in a death investigation), processing, evidence collected, and pending.

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The summary would basically give the details of how we were initiated into the investigation. For an example: " At the request of Robbery Detective J. Doe, this writer was requested to respond to assist in processing the scene of an armed robbery involving 4 unknown masked subjects. Det. J. Doe's preliminary investigation revealed that the subjects startled the victim as she returned home from shopping". For further details of this investigation refer to Det. J. Doe's report.. Our summary is brief and does not include a lot of he said, she said information.

In the scene section of the narrative we give a detailed description of the scene as it is seen upon our approach. The scene description usually includes anything that is unusual and out of place. Any weather or environment conditions are also included. Again this is a description of what we see not what we think. The Evidence observed, its location, condition, or anything remarkable about the item will be included in our scene description section. This would also correspond to any identification markers used to number or label the items of evidence. These remarks would all be consistent with any numbers, letters, or labels indicated in the photographs, or drawn into a sketch of the scene.

The processing section is for our units to describe what we did, if assistance was needed during the processing stages, who we had assisting, and what functions they did.

The evidence collection section is to organize what evidence we and others assisting were able to recover from the crime scene, where the items were recovered from, and what part of the lab the items were directed to for analysis.

The pending section would be for any known tasks that would need to be completed at a later date in the investigation.

Recently I was asked to give an opinion on the crime scene portion of a cold case investigation which had occurred more than 20 years earlier. I agreed to take a look at everything to give my interpretation of the crime scene from the work product. So the reports and pictures were ordered from the original files.

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When the items came in the mail the report consisted of a one page, one paragraph narrative. The scene photographs consisted of several overall prospective of a wooded area. I could be of no assistance to my fellow college. But the experience best illustrates how important it is to properly use the tools at hand. We are brought in to assist in the beginning stages of an investigation when very limited information is known. We should realize that our work product may need to be viewed extensively by someone years from now for interpretation. The written documentation, photographs, and simple sketch need to tell the scene story. Hopefully by sharing this simple organized method it will be of some assistance to you.

About the Author

Mike Byrd (1955-2005) joined the Miami-Dade County Police Department in 1983 and started with the Crime Scene Investigations Bureau in 1987. He took an exceptionally active part in the science of forensic crime scene investigations, including development of new techniques, publishing methodology of crime scene procedures, and teaching. Mike developed new techniques for gathering and cataloging crime scene evidence including the lifting of fingerprints, vehicle tire impressions, and footwear impressions.

Mike's methods and analysis withstood the scrutiny of the criminal justice process. He published more than thirty crime scene articles on crime scene evidence collection and for the International Association for Identification and was awarded The Good of the Association Award in 2002 for his innovative identification methodology and techniques. He taught crime scene investigation procedures and techniques at police departments around the country and took great pride at instructing smaller Florida police departments in the latest techniques in evidence gathering.

Mike performed the tough detailed oriented forensic work at many major crime scenes and disasters over two-decades. He gathered, processed, and identified the DNA evidence used to convict the Tamiami Strangler for a string of heinous murders in 1994. His thoughtful gathering of evidence at the Valujet crash allowed families to reach closure for the deaths of loved ones.

Mike Byrd died after a more than two year battle with multiple myeloma cancer. Annually, the Police Officer Assistance Trust awards the Mike Byrd Crime Scene Investigation Scholarship in his honor.

Articles by Mike Byrd