Your hero arrives on the crime scene, steps out of his unmarked Crown Vic, and pushes through a sea of looky-loos and patrol officers. He kneels beside the victim and sees the murder weapon, a cheap Davis .380, lying nearby. He picks it up and sniffs the end of the barrel. “Yep, someone fired this gun recently. I’d say within the past two hours.” He motions for a crime scene tech. “Run this gun for prints, and let me know what you find out, pronto.”
What does this brief description tell us about the detective? If you said that he doesn’t have a clue how to investigate a crime scene, you’d be absolutely correct. Yet, we see scenarios like this on TV and in books all the time. Why not write the scene properly?
Here’s a handy guide for proper crime scene investigations:
1. Secure the scene. Only officers directly involved in the actual investigation are allowed inside the perimeter of the crime scene. No one else comes inside. This includes family, friends, and the chief of police and mayor. Nobody. Nada. Zip. And zero.
2. Do NOT touch anything. This includes picking up the murder weapon to sniff the gun barrel.
3. Do NOT enter any crime scene without first scanning the floor or ground for footwear impressions in the dust, carpet, or dirt. This is best accomplished by shining a flashlight obliquely (at an angle) across the surface. Those impressions/prints can be lifted with an electrostatic dust lifter.
Electrostatic dust lifter can lift dust prints off floors, fabric, doors, carpet, concrete, tables, paper products, metal, counters, plastic and even human skin.
4. Photograph the soles of the shoes of every single person who is permitted to enter the crime scene.
5. Begin note-taking and mentally trying to put the puzzles pieces in place—the first step to solving the crime. It’s also a good idea to use video and audio recorders at this time so no detail is missed.
6. Photographs, photographs, and photographs. You can’t have too many pictures of a crime scene and evidence.
7. Sketch the scene. There are many templates and computer software available for this purpose. The sketch drawn at the scene is a rough sketch. The more detailed drawing will be done later, at the office.
Drawing using computer software
8. Search for evidence, and this means search every single place including toilets, sewers, light fixtures, behind receptacle plates, between blades of grass, etc. And this also means crawling around on your hands and knees, when needed.
We’ll pick up with collecting the evidence in a later post.
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Friday (4-23-10) is the last day to sign up for FATS training at the Writers’ Police Academy. The class is full. Those of you already registered will be assigned a training partner(s) within the next couple of weeks. There will be space available, on a first come, first serve basis, for those of you who’d like to observe your fellow recruits as they face life or death, shoot/don’t shoot situations. Registration for the overall academy will remain open, and the early registration fee is still in effect.