Crime Scene Investigator Network

Crime Scene Investigator Network Newsletter

February 2017

Welcome to the February 2017 Crime Scene Investigator Network Newsletter

Crime Scene Protection

D.H. Garrison, Jr.

Ask crime scene technicians to name the biggest problem that they encounter on the job and you will consistently hear the same response—crime scene contamination by curious officers, detectives, and supervisors. Whether called evidence technicians, identification bureau officers, or laboratory specialists, either civilian or sworn, most personnel responsible for the processing of crime scene evidence find the same problems repeated by the same "offenders." The unintentional contamination of crime scenes appears to be a problem that will not go away without written departmental policies reinforced by a strong foundation in training.

Just Like Television

Very early in their careers, most law enforcement officers realize that the police work they see depicted on television and in the movies bears little resemblance to their jobs. It is something of an anomaly, therefore, that many of these same officers seem to believe that crime scene work should be performed as it is on the screen—murder scenes filled with loitering blue uniforms and multitudes of detectives hovering over bodies, with crime scene personnel appearing just long enough to snap an occasional picture or to dust a piece of furniture for fingerprints. Officers who work under this misconception do not seem to understand that a crime scene is no place for a crowd.

Lost Evidence, Lost Opportunities

Widespread trampling of crime scenes can prove very damaging to investigations. Often, it results in several of the more sensitive forensic techniques—such as trace analysis, blood spatter interpretation, and DNA comparison—not being used to their fullest potential. Crime scene technicians know the futility of collecting hair or fiber samples after a roomful of officers have shed all over the scene. Footwear and tire track evidence is rarely recognized as valuable in departments where officers routinely wander unimpeded through crime scenes. On occasion, this can seriously hamper investigations.

Not long ago, a sheriff's department was forced to conduct a mass fingerprinting of its detective unit after a particularly sensational homicide crime scene became overrun with curious personnel. Considerable time and effort went into eliminating officers' fingerprints from the pool of legitimate prints. In another case involving a different agency, a set of crime scene photographs showed supervisory personnel standing on a blood-soaked carpet.

When the integrity of fingerprints and shoeprints is jeopardized, it is time for agencies to rethink their approach to crime scene work. While departments have tried artificial means of scene protection—such as having visitors sign release forms agreeing to provide elimination fingerprints, hair samples, and semen specimens, or establishing two-perimeter crime scenes (the inner perimeter reserved for real forensic work)—these responses are mere salves for a problem that demands more meaningful attention.

Setting An Example

The role of detectives and supervisors in protecting crime scenes cannot be overstressed. These individuals ultimately are responsible for an investigation. Investigators who conscientiously limit the number of visitors to a crime scene ultimately may save themselves a great deal of legwork.

The simplest and most productive way for supervisors and detectives to discourage crime scene contamination is to set a good example by their own behavior. If a lieutenant walks around a crime scene at will, opening drawers and rifling through closets, what could be the harm in other officers doing the same? If a detective sergeant fails to implement a sign-in log for scene visitors, what is there to limit "drop in" visits by curious patrol officers? It is in the best interests of case investigators to set a good example and to make sure others follow it.

To further enhance the protection of evidence, police administrators should draft and enforce a written policy regarding crime scene protection and preservation. The policy not only must be clear but also must carry the same weight as any other departmental rule. Police administrators should not tolerate curiosity as an excuse for unchecked visits to the scene of a crime. Administrators, perhaps in conjunction with the local prosecutor's office, should write and enforce the rules, and like supervisors and investigators, set an example by their own behavior.

Prosecutors who have lost cases due to crime scene contamination could be an invaluable source of ideas in the formation of policy. Likewise, administrators should take advantage of the technical knowledge of laboratory and crime scene specialists when formulating the department's policy.

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This Month's Featured Resource on the Crime Scene Investigator Network Website

It is the intention of this Guide to acquaint a broad spectrum of public safety personnel with the fire investigation process, so they may understand their role in this important task and help identify, locate, and preserve evidence in its varied forms, to either assist a specialist investigator when one is needed or to adequately document and collect evidence when no assistance is needed or available. This Guide focuses on the documentation and collection of physical evidence at fire/arson scenes.

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Crime Scene Specialist
Travis County Sheriff'S Department, Austin, Texas, USA

Final Filing Date: March 7, 2017
Under general supervision, performs technical and scene processing support for countywide crime scenes by photographing and sketching physical evidence, processing evidence and marking/packaging physical evidence, such as finger/shoe prints and collection of biologicals to satisfy legal and scientific requirements. Prepares reports of findings, testifies in a court at law about work performed and deposition of all physical evidence.
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Forensic Scientist - Digital Evidence
Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Topeka, Kansas, USA

Final Filing Date: March 6, 2017
Preforms examinations on digital evidence - this includes taking actions to recover, preserve, and analyze data from electronic sources, including desktop and laptop computers, mobile devices, removable media, and other items deemed necessary.
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Forensic Firearms and Toolmark Examiner
Dallas Police Department, Dallas, Texas, USA

Final Filing Date: March 4, 2017
Perform a variety of analysis on bullets, cartridge casings, firearms and other related physical evidence. Prepare a written analysis of the findings and present the findings in court.
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Latent Fingerprint Examiner
Miami-Dade Police Department, Doral, Florida, USA

Final Filing Date: March 6, 2017
Employees in this class are responsible for identifying fingerprints, preparing court exhibits, and providing testimony in courts of law. Duties include utilization of an Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), performing latent chemical processes on items of physical evidence, providing latent identification services for other jurisdictions, and reviewing and verifying latent print identifications.
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Sheriff Services Technician - Evidence
Larimer County Sheriff's Office, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

Final Filing Date: March 8, 2017
This position receives, stores, returns or disposes all property, evidence, and found property according to policy and procedure.
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Coroner Investigator Trainee
County of Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner - Coroner, Los Angeles, California, USA

Final Filing Date: March 1, 2017
Participates in a basic specialized coroner's investigator training program in accordance with the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) and Departmental guidelines and policies.
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