Protecting the crime scene.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."(1) 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 Loitering (IPA pronunciation: ['lɔɪtəˌrɪŋ] is an intransitive verb meaning to stand idly, to stop numerous times, or to delay and procrastinate. blue uniforms and multitudes of detectives hovering hov·er
intr.v. hov·ered, hov·er·ing, hov·ers
1. To remain floating, suspended, or fluttering in the air: gulls hovering over the waves.
2. over bodies, with crime scene personnel appearing just long enough to snap an occasional picture or to dust a piece of furniture for fingerprints Impressions or reproductions of the distinctive pattern of lines and grooves on the skin of human fingertips.
Fingerprints are reproduced by pressing a person's fingertips into ink and then onto a piece of paper. . Officers who work under this misconception mis·con·cep·tion
A mistaken thought, idea, or notion; a misunderstanding: had many misconceptions about the new tax program. 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, bloodspatter interpretation, and DNA DNA: see nucleic acid.
or deoxyribonucleic acid
One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes. comparison--not being used to their fullest potential. Crime scene technicians know the futility Futility
See also Despair, Frustration.
American Scene, The
portrays Americans as having secured necessities; now looking for amenities. [Am. Lit.: The American Scene]
performs the useless and supererogatory. [Fr. 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 unimpeded
not stopped or disrupted by anything
Adj. 1. unimpeded - not slowed or prevented; "a time of unimpeded growth"; "an unimpeded sweep of meadows and hills afforded a peaceful setting" through crime scenes.(2) On occasion, this can seriously hamper investigations.
Not long ago, a sheriff's department was forced to conduct a mass fingerprinting fingerprinting
Act of taking an impression of a person's fingerprint. Because each person's fingerprints are unique, fingerprinting is used as a method of identification, especially in police investigations. of its detective unit after a particularly sensational homicide crime scene became overrun 1. overrun - A frequent consequence of data arriving faster than it can be consumed, especially in serial line communications. For example, at 9600 baud there is almost exactly one character per millisecond, so if a silo can hold only two characters and the machine takes 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 semen
or seminal fluid
Whitish viscous fluid emitted from the male reproductive tract that contains sperm and liquids (seminal plasma) that help keep them viable. 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.(3)
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 leg·work
Work, such as collecting information or doing research in preparation for a project, that involves much walking or traveling about. .
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.(4)
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 Police and Military personnel who specialize in Crime Scene analysis, processing, and investigation. when formulating the department's policy.
The primary responsibilities of initial responders to a crime are to preserve life and to control suspects and witnesses. Then, shifting their focus somewhat, responding officers must take steps to preserve the integrity of the scene's physical boundaries. While this may not be a problem for those officers who were once taught the importance of protecting crime scenes, others--including supervisors, media relations personnel, and administrators--sometimes have trouble leaving well enough alone at a crime scene.(5)
A department's written policy should provide a uniform procedure to restrict unnecessary access to crime scenes. A crime scene policy should contain the following elements:
* The officer assigned to the crime scene's main entry must log in all visitors, including name, rank, stated purpose, and arrival and departure times. Absolutely no undocumented visitors should be allowed in the crime scene area
* Every officer at the scene must complete a standard report describing their involvement and their specific actions while at the scene
* All visitors must make available any requested exemplar ex·em·plar
1. One that is worthy of imitation; a model. See Synonyms at ideal.
2. One that is typical or representative; an example.
3. An ideal that serves as a pattern; an archetype.
4. (hair, blood, shoeprints, fingerprints, etc.) for elimination purposes
* The highest ranking officer entering a crime scene must assume responsibility for all subsequent visitors to the scene. This final element means that any supervisory officer who visits the scene to "have a look around" must stay at the site until either the crime scene technicians finish their work or a higher ranking officer arrives. Needless to say, this simple requirement goes a long way to discourage pointless tourism.
An officer attempting to secure a crime scene who finds the post regularly overrun by curious commanders must have the means to protect the scene, enforce department rules, and deal with superior officers. This is often a difficult balancing act. A clearly-written, well-enforced policy helps to level the playing field.
Addressing Future Problems
In addition to a clearly defined written policy, departments should also address the problem of crime scene contamination by instructing new officers to follow approved practices. This is best accomplished during basic academy instruction by having crime scene specialists discuss the department's policy and the importance of protecting forensic evidence. As more officers become trained in proper practices, the risk of future crime scene contamination steadily diminishes.
Crime scenes often yield forensic evidence that leads to the apprehension of dangerous criminals. Perhaps just as often, though, potentially valuable evidence is destroyed or rendered useless by careless careless adj., adv. 1) negligent. 2) the opposite of careful. A careless act can result in liability for damages to others. (See: negligent, negligence, care) behavior at the crime scene. Clearly written directives and training for new officers in this area will help agencies to resolve the problem. However, the ultimate responsibility rests with administrators, supervisors, and detectives to reinforce positive conduct by setting a good example for other officers to follow.
1 R. Saferstein, Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science The application of scientific knowledge and methodology to legal problems and criminal investigations.
Sometimes called simply forensics, forensic science encompasses many different fields of science, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, engineering, genetics, , 2d ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey Englewood Cliffs is a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the United States 2000 Census, the borough population was 5,322. The borough houses the world headquarters of CNBC and the American headquarters of Unilever. : Prentice-Hall, 1981), 31-32.
2 W. Bodziak, Footwear Impression Evidence (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Elsevier, 1990), 16-17.
3 L. Eliopulos, Death Investigator's Handbook: A Field Guide to Crime Scene Processing, Forensic Evaluations, and Investigative Techniques (Boulder, Colorado The City of Boulder (, Mountain Time Zone) is a home rule municipality located in Boulder County, Colorado, United States. Boulder is the 11th most populous city in the State of Colorado, as well as the most populous city and the county : Paladin Paladin
archetypal gunman who leaves a calling card. [TV: Have Gun, Will Travel in Terrace, I, 341]
See : Wild West , 1993), 2.
4 V. Geberth, Practical Homicide Investigation (New York: Elsevier, 1983), 21.
5 J. Peterson, S. Mihajlovic, and M. Gilliland, Forensic Evidence and the Police: The Effects of Scientific Evidence on Criminal Investigations, National Institute of Justice Research Report, Washington, DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1984, 46.
Mr. D.H. Garrison serves in the Forensic Services Unit of the Grand Rapids, Michigan “Grand Rapids” redirects here. For other uses, see Grand Rapids (disambiguation).
Grand Rapids is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan. As of the 2000 census, the city population was 197,800. , Police Department.