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Searching in Stages to Prevent
Destruction of Evidence at Crime Scenes

Greg Dagnan

They say that you don't really understand a topic until you teach it. I am never really sure who "they" are, but I can certainly attest after only two years as a university level instructor, that "they" are correct.

After 16 years of experience in law enforcement working countless crime scenes, I started teaching college students and cops the basics of crime scene investigation. I read every text I could find, performed countless "Google" searches and read every periodical I could get my hands on. I was finally ready to teach "crime scene search patterns." I taught lane searches, zone searches and the famous CWA search (the "Cop Wondering Around" search; not recommended, by the way).

My class full of officers seemed to understand the basics, so off we went to the crime scene "house" to practice what we learned. I watched officer after officer find a piece of evidence on the ground and then accidentally kick it, step on it or destroy it in some way while searching for other evidence. Officers would place tent markers on items of evidence to clearly mark them and then place junk out of a drawer on top of the items before they could be collected. Someone even lifted a mattress to look underneath and the mattress slid of the other side of the bed, crushing a piece of evidence! I realized then that all the methods I'd been teaching had failed and decided to come up with a way to search crime scenes that would keep evidence in tact. The solution: searching in stages. This seems to be easily understood by learners and more importantly, works solidly in the real world of CSI.

Level One Search: This is the most basic and superficial search. First, a search pattern is chosen that would be most effective for the crime scene environment to be examined. For example, a "zone" search would be chosen for a small apartment, while a "grid" search might be chosen for a large open outdoor area.

I always recommend switching officer positions and completing a search pattern a second time so that another set of eyes reviews every search. Additionally, the crime scene commander should not become a searcher, but should remain free to make evaluative decisions about what constitutes evidence and to coordinate the numbering of all found potential evidence.

As evidence is located, the commander makes a decision as to whether the item is potential evidence and if so makes a second decision concerning what number that particular piece should be. After this process, an evidence marking device is placed near the evidence. When conducting a level one search, the officer's eyes are the only tools used. Nothing is touched; therefore this is the least invasive form of search. The only items of evidence searched for are those that can be detected without moving any object in the scene.

Once all officers have completed the search and the pattern is double checked, all items are prepared for collection before the level two search. At a minimum this includes, a midrange photo (hopefully over-all photos were taken before the scene was searched or altered in any way), a close up photo (with ABFO scale) and measurement to the item from two fixed points for a sketch. Video taping may or may not fit in here depending on your department policy. Once all evidence items are collected and properly packaged, you can proceed to a second level search. What about the marking device? Leave it in place in case there is any question later about the interrelationship of the location of evidence items collected.

Level Two Search: Even when taking the search process to a more thorough level, crime scene integrity can still be maintained. A level two search consists of moving items that cause minimal intrusion into the scene. For example, when conducting a level two search closet doors are opened, furniture is searched underneath and some drawers may be opened. The idea of a level two search is to not be extremely intrusive, but to search in reasonable places in a way that does not totally disrupt your crime scene. As with a level one search, a search pattern is chosen and double checked. Items are marked with a number and then "caught up" with all the other items previously collected.

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

Best Practices For Seizing Electronic Evidence, v.3
A Pocket Guide for First Responders

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
United States Secret Service

This third edition of the Best Practices for Seizing Electronic Evidence was updated as a project of the United States Secret Service and participating law enforcement agencies. A working group of various law enforcement agencies was convened to identify common issues encountered in today's electronic crime scenes.          <View the Pocket Guide>

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Crime Scene Analyst
Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, Sarasota, Florida, USA

Final Filing Date: September 26, 2017
Perform a variety of duties that will include, but not limited to, collection, preservation, and evaluation of biologic items of evidence or potential evidence, collect and preserve prints and impressions of or from various sources, collect and preserve other evidence and property.
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Part Time Forensic Specialist I
Anaheim Police Department, Anaheim, California, USA

Final Filing Date: September 26, 2017
This is a part-time position averaging 30 hours per week. Conducts crime scene investigations to recognize, search for, document, develop, enhance, collect and preserve all types of evidence. Records physical or trace evidence through such techniques as macro, micro, infrared, and ultraviolet photography and the use of alternate light sources.
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Forensic Scientist Trainee - Controlled Substances
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Final Filing Date: September 27, 2017
Incumbents receive supervised training in the scientific laboratory examination and analysis of physical evidence and in the scientific interpretation of test results.
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Criminalist I - IV
Sacramento County District Attorney, Sacramento, California, USA

Final Filing Date: October 3, 2017
Criminalists conduct forensic laboratory analyses of physical evidence, investigate crime scenes, and testify in court as an expert witness on the subjects of forensic analyses and crime scene investigation.
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Latent Fingerprint Examiner
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Final Filing Date: September 28, 2017
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) is currently seeking to fill two Latent Fingerprint Examiner positions. One position is full-time benefit earning and the second is a part-time benefit earning position.
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Evidence Technician I
Anchorage Police Department, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

Final Filing Date: September 25, 2017
Accesses secured lockers in evidence warehouse environment and responds to scenes of active criminal investigations to retrieve evidence. Ensures property and evidence is accompanied with accurate report including chain-of-custody.
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Photographing Footwear Impressions

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