Crime Scene Processing
Do it right the first time. You only get one chance. Once things have been moved, once things have been changed, once you lose that little window of opportunity, it's gone forever.
--Vernon J. Geberth, Commander, Bronx Homicide, NYPD (Ret.), Author of Practical Homicide Investigation
A crime scene investigator has to have a positive attitude. You've got to believe you're going to find the evidence. I just learned to play golf. It helps you search the crime scene. My ball goes into the woods. Every time. Now it's like a crime scene. I always come out with, say, six balls, when I lost two. The positive attitude is the same with golf and the crime scene: You don't look at the sand traps. You look at the green. Your objective is always to do your best at that crime scene.
--Dr. Henry C. Lee, Chief Emeritus and Director, Forensic Science Laboratory, Meriden, Connecticut
A drop of blood on a gym shoe. A piece of fiber found on a stairway. The impression of a spade used to dig a basement grave. DNA picked up from a sneeze. A few microscopic traces of glass, blown back on the clothing of an intruder.
These have been the first threads of forensic investigations, discovered and collected at crime scenes, leftover particles from actions that have ripped the fabric of people's lives.
Before any investigation can start, evidence must be collected. The scene itself, whether inside, outside, or mobile, has to be gone over as if the processors were exploring a site on Mars. What's this? Why is this here? Why isn't this here? What does this all mean? And--how do we get the evidence back to the lab without destroying it?
Generally, once the police call for assistance from the crime lab, crime scene teams consisting of evidence technicians and any forensic specialists needed--like blood spatter interpreters, trace analysts, firearms examiners--are sent to the scene. These processors start the chain of evidence that may stretch from the scene through the detectives' investigation, through the crime lab, all the way to trial. Processors and investigators have a term for the ideal: "keeping the chain tight." And they have only one shot at picking up the links left at the scene.
This chapter follows crime scene processors, presenting what they've found in their own words. Their comments are anonymous, but their expertise is indicated after their quotes (unless an entire section contains one type of expert, indicated before the section). Follow the processors and specialists as they work the scene from the outside in.
In late '81, they were training new crime scene team members in Minnesota. Of course, none of us was smart enough to ask, "Well, why is everybody who's been here for a long time getting off crime scene?"
We're all young and stupid, thinking, "This sounds great." Back in those days you started out as a crime scene photographer. We went through the whole course and had to demonstrate our proficiency.
Copyright © 2006 by Connie Fletcher. All rights reserved. CONNIE FLETCHER is an associate professor of Journalism at Loyola University in Chicago, and is the author of the bestsellers What Cops Know, Pure Cop, and Breaking and Entering.