Crime Scene Response Guidelines: Documentation Procedures

   See also the instructional video "Crime Scene Documentation"

Many law enforcement agencies use a variety of preprinted documents or forms, designed to record certain aspects of crime scene investigation. These documents normally have resulted from a trial-and-error approach based on actual case experiences. Despite variations in the design of these documents, the purpose and goals behind their use are usually identical from one agency to another.

There is an important point to consider when forms, are being drafted for routine use. Often, there is a tendency to regard forms as means to cover every possibility that personnel may confront, such documents normally serve only as reminders of the minimum pertinent information needed to perform a task. Each scene will require some level of deviation from the norm, based on the complexities at hand. Forms are not substitutes for thinking; they are merely tools to assist personnel to fully exercise training and experience to meet the needs of a given situation.

There are normally six important categories of documentation that are considered applicable to any search:

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Administrative Worksheet

Documentation of major events, times and movements relating to the search efforts; documentation of initial and continuing management and administrative steps which are taken to insure that an organized search is accomplished.

Narrative Description

Documentation of the general appearance of the scene as first observed; extreme detail regarding evidence or actual collection of evidence, is normally beyond the scope of the Narrative Description

Photographic Log

Documentation of the process of scene photography which records the overall, medium, and close-up views of the scene; a log is produced representing the technical and descriptive information concerning the photographic task.


Documentation of physical evidence locations, as well as measurements showing pertinent size and distance relationships in the crime scene area.

Evidence Recovery Log

Documentation of the recognition, collection, marking, and packaging of physical evidence for administrative and chain of custody purposes.

Latent Print Lift Log

Documentation of the recognition, collection, marking, and packaging of lifts made of latent prints discovered at the scene.

 Earn a Degree in Crime Scene Investigation, Forensic Science, Computer Forensics or Forensic Psychology


State of California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training Forensic Telecourse Development Committee Members:

  • Rod Andrus, Senior Criminalist, California Department of Justice/Fresno Laboratory
  • Jim Bailey, Senior Criminalist, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
  • Mike Carleton, Deputy District Attorney, Office of the District Attorney/San Diego County
  • Jerry Chisum, Supervising Criminalist, Department of Justice/Sacramento Laboratory
  • Greg Matheson, Supervising Criminalist, Los Angeles Police Department Crime Lab
  • Craig Ogino, Criminalist, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department
  • Stephen Ojena, Criminalist, Contra Costa County Sheriff's Crime Laboratory
  • Victor Reeve, Managing Criminalist, California Criminalistics Institute
  • Ed Rhodes, Criminalist, San Diego Police Department Forensic Science Services
  • Theresa Spear, Chief Criminalist, Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory
  • Tony Sprague, Crime Laboratory Director, Alameda County Sheriff's Department Crime Laboratory
  • Faye Springer, Senior Criminalist, Department of Justice/Sacramento Laboratory
  • Fred Tulleners, Criminalist Supervisor, California Criminalistics Institute
  • Sandy Wiersema, Criminalist, San Diego Police Department Forensic Science Services

All of the agencies that allowed their forensic experts to serve on the development committee. All of the committee members who helped assemble this workbook, especially Theresa Spear and Ed Rhodes. The San Diego Police Department Crime Laboratory and the Coronado Police Department.