Week 3 of a local (to me) citizen’s police academy touched on a few topics: Major Crimes & Investigations, Search & Seizure, and Crime Scene Processing. We ran out of time for Interviews and Interrogations, but I hope it gets covered in one of the remaining seven weeks.
It was no surprise that the evening started with, “What you see on TV is not what happens in real life.” Detectives are not crime scene scientists, they can collect the evidence and direct the investigation, but they aren’t the scientists who process the evidence in a lab (in most cases).
When officers first arrive at a crime scene, the first point of order in the SOP (standard operating procedure) is to make sure people are alive and safe. Of course, it being a crime scene, the chances of a person being DRT (dead right there) are higher than in a non-criminal situation. But people at the scene need to be evaluated and then helped, interviewed and excused, or detained for questioning.
The OIC (officer in charge) assigns an officer to maintain scene security. This officer is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the scene; for keeping the public outside the ‘crime scene’ perimeter which is quickly taped off. He or she is responsible for keeping a log of everyone who enters the scene and keeps out those who have no need to be there. The more people who enter a crime scene, the more chances there are to taint the scene.
An evidence collection team (which could be one or multiple people) goes through the scene and photographs everything.
A detective is assigned to document every piece of evidence collected at the scene in a log. This starts the chain of custody. Each piece of evidence goes into its own collection bag so as not to cross-contaminate items or DNA or blood samples.
Do you know what latent prints are? I thought they were fingerprints left at a scene. And that’s partially correct. A latent print is actually a fingerprint that is left at a crime scene and remains invisible until chemically treated.
Someone was pulling the fire alarm at a local school after hours and was, of course, long gone by the time anyone arrived. After a few episodes, the PD used clue spray on the fire alarm handle. The spray leaves an invisible film when touched, but glows under UV light, and it is not easily washed off. In fact, one of the detectives had played with the clue spray hours before our class, and he showed us there were still remnants of it on his hand. Stubborn and sticky and handy for police!
And we also saw how electrostatic lifting film is used to collect footprints and fingerprints off a flat surface (such as a table). The black side faces the surface, then electricity is sent through the mylar with a probe. The static holds the mylar to the surface, and then when the film is lifted, the print is attached. The film is attached to a piece of cardboard (such as the inside of a pizza box to keep it from getting corrupted), and sent to the lab for processing.
Regarding search and seizures, if something is “in plain view,” no search is needed, because, well, the item is in plain view (for instance, in the back seat of a car that is parked in a public lot). Questions come up in court as to whether the officer had a right to be in the position where he (or she) could see the evidence.
This was a fun class. Several crime scene investigation tools were on display, and we were able to see examples of items being held in the evidence room.
Special note: Have you ever had a local collection day for unused prescription medications? The police department was most likely working in conjunction with the DEA (drug enforcement agency)