Footwear Evidence & Theft Detection: Leaving A Lasting Impression

Footwear Evidence & Theft Detection

Final Day of Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes – by Patti Phillips

Criminals rob, murder, rape or otherwise inflict bodily harm upon their victims. Physical evidence at a crime scene is an essential part of figuring out what happened. It is up to the police officers, investigators, and examiners to recognize what is and is not part of the evidence and then interpret the importance of each fiber, fingerprint, bloodstain, and other material in order to secure a conviction of the correct individual.

One of the most overlooked pieces of evidence at a crime scene is created by footwear.

If a window breaks as a thief enters the premises during the commission of a burglary, the glass will fall into the house, and onto the floor or rug below the window. When the thief steps through the window, unless the thief has wings, he/she will probably plant a foot right in the middle of the glass. And walk through the house, most likely tracking minute pieces of that glass. That glass may also become embedded in the grooves of the sole of the shoe, creating a distinctive footprint.

If the investigating officer can place a suspect at the scene with the footprint, then there is probable cause to fingerprint that suspect and hopefully establish a link to the crime.

A new method of eliminating suspects right at the scene involves stepping into a tray that contains a pad impregnated with a harmless clear ink that doesn’t stain, then stepping onto a chemically treated impression card. (So safe that it’s often used on newborn babies for the hospital records) No messy cleanup, immediate results, and it can even show details of wear and tear on the shoe. This can be a way to establish a known standard (we know where this impression came from) to compare with multiple tread prints at the scene.

Footwear Clear Ink Impression

Another tool for creating a known standard is the foam impression system. It takes a bit longer, (24 hours) but clear, crisp impressions can be made, including of the pebbles and bits stuck deep into the grooves and the writing on the arch. Very helpful when trying to place suspects at the scene. A rock stuck in the sole is a random characteristic that can’t be duplicated, so becomes another point of identification.

We definitely wanted to try this method for ourselves. Each of the writers stepped into the box of stiff-ish foam – a bit like stepping into wet sand.

Using foam impression system

An impression is made instantaneously. Look at the detail – down to the wear on the heel.

Foam impression of Wolverine boot

We used pre-mixed dental stone (made with distilled water and the powder) to fill the impression.

Making the cast with pre-mixed dental stone

We waited 24 hours for them to become firm enough to pop out of the foam. We now had permanent records of the footwear treads, which could be used for comparison to other prints found at the scene. There were more than a dozen of us walking through that room every day on a regular basis and assorted other visitors tramping through the perimeter. If a crime occurred before we left for the week, we’d have a LOT of eliminating to do, but we were ready!

Footwear casts

Occasionally footprints are found on the ground outside a window or in the gardens surrounding a house after a burglary or homicide. Ever see a crime show on TV where the fictional investigator makes a snap judgment about the height and weight of the owner of the footprint because of the depth of the impression? That’s merely a plot device and is not scientific evidence in real life. A crime scene photographer or investigator can photograph the footprint (next to a measurement scale), make a take away cast, and then compare the impression with those of the suspects or other bystanders at the scene. Beware: making a cast of the print destroys the print, so a photograph must be taken before pouring that first drop of dental stone.

Footprints can be found at bloody crime scenes as well. The suspect walks through the blood, tracks it through the house, cleans it up, but the prints are still there, even though not obvious to the naked eye. As we learned during the ‘Blood and Other Bodily Fluids’ session, blood just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a floor and even behind baseboards.

A savvy investigator will collect sections of carpet (or flooring) taken from where the suspect might have walked during the commission of the crime, then conduct a presumptive test for blood (LCV – Aqueous Leuco Crystal Violet), find a usable footprint, compare it to a known standard, and then be able to place the suspect at the scene.

Footwear Print

Crooks like to think they can outsmart the cops by coming up with new ways to get rid of evidence. But law enforcement officers are getting smarter as well. Filing down the serial numbers on a gun in order to cover up its ownership? No longer works.

We thought Mr. Skiff was kidding! But, no. We were each presented with a small rectangle of polished metal. Looks totally smooth and shiny, right? We were informed that one of the Sirchie employees had used a sander and removed numbers from some, maybe all, of the metal rectangles. Hmm… Our assignment was to restore the numbers. Ha! No way there was anything on mine.

Supposedly ‘gone’ serial number

(By the way, if this had been a gun in an actual case, first we would have photographed the area where the serial # was supposed to be, and shone a flashlight on it from several oblique angles to see if we could spot a fragment of a numeral.)

Our course of action was to:

1) polish the surface with sandpaper – very fine, 220 grade sandpaper. We were warned not to create heat, but to keep polishing until we had a mirror surface, about two minutes at a time.

2) wipe off the surface with clean cotton balls

3) apply cleaning solution

4) use a bulb pipette, apply 2% acetic acid solution, and flood the surface evenly.

The acid ate away at the metal, turned to light gray, bubbled, and gave off a bit of smoke. It was taking the destroyed surface and restoring it.

Acid treated metal

Once the bubbling stopped, we dumped the acid into the sink and wiped the surface dry with a clean cotton ball. It fogged and we kept rubbing hard, about 45 seconds. The next step was to run the piece of metal under the faucet and hold it an angle to see what we had.

Checking for numbers

Most of us saw something, but we couldn’t really tell what the writing said. We started the process again, beginning with the sanding at step #1. After another run through all the steps, three numerals appeared on mine.

584 pops out after only two attempts at restoration

Success! Followed by the application of an acid neutralizer to set the numerals. I just checked and almost two weeks after the class ended, the numerals have not faded.

If this were an actual case, we would photograph the numerals we were able to restore, call the gun manufacturer and ask for a match in their database. All legitimate gun manufacturers employ liaisons to work with law enforcement officers. Good news? – it is also possible to restore numbers on plastic, copper, and aluminum. And, if there were 20-30 numerals to be restored, and only half appeared, it’s possible to cover the recovered numerals with duct tape, then reprocess the missing ones.

Presumptive drug tests for narcotics can be conducted right at the scene.

The kits each include three ampules. A very small amount of the substance in question is added to the open bag and then the ampules are broken one at a time. After each ampule breaks, the test liquid mixes with the substance and will change to the correct color if the test is positive. Every once in a while, we see drug dealers on TV or in the movies dip a finger into a kilo of cocaine, taste it, then declare that it’s ‘good stuff.’ Not true in real life, and certainly a police officer could not do that at a drug bust. These tests are fast and accurate.

Presumptive drug test results

Theft detection comes into play during bank robberies and kidnappings. If officials know ahead of time that a bank is about to be robbed, or if kidnappers have asked for a money drop, but the identity of the suspect is unknown…what to do? Microwave the money to take out the moisture, then dust it with purple Stain Detection Powder. When the suspect picks up the cash, his hands will get the pesky purple powder all over them.

Visible Stain Detection Powder

The stuff is annoying and spreads easily onto clothes – messy, messy. So, if the suspect acts like any other average person on the planet, he/she will try to wash it off. But, that only makes the hands turn a bright shade of purple. This stuff does not wash off, no matter how many times you scrub. We watched Mr. Skiff continue to work on that purple stain for the rest of the day. I hope he didn’t have dinner plans out in a public place.

Visible Stain Detection Powder exposed to moisture

There are both visible and invisible fluorescent Stain Detection products (powders, pastes, crayons, ink markers, etc.) and they are used for both tagging and tracing. Some of the crimes most likely to be solved using them? Petty theft, money laundering, illegal drug sales, illegal firearm deals, industrial espionage, arson, and loads more. Stain Detection stamps have been used for years to track people coming and going at large entertainment venues. Cheap and easy way to tell if someone has paid for the entry ticket.

A few words about crime scene photography:

I’ve mentioned several times that photography plays an important role in recording evidence at the scene. We see crime scene photographers working the scenes on the major forensic crime shows on TV and in the movies all the time. Not just anyone with a cool new camera can photograph a crime scene, however. Aside from the ‘strong stomach’ factor, the photographer must have an expert level of knowledge about f-stops, raw vs jpeg images, and the list goes on. PLUS, you can’t delete the images you don’t like, even if fuzzy or off-kilter. Digital camera images are sequentially numbered and if the remaining photographs are entered into evidence in a court case, the attorneys will want to know what was on the missing images. Case gets thrown out of court because of your pride? Hmm…

The fabulous week came to a close with a graduation ceremony. Since we were not actually going to work in law enforcement – just write about it – we didn’t have to take the exam that usually closes the week of training. Whew!

Robert Skiff, Patti Phillips

Grads at other institutions receive flowers on graduation day. Not our group.

Our goodies? T-shirts, cozies, pens, and….

For a crime fiction writer, perfect!

I can’t say enough great things about Robert Skiff, the Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist who conducted the class with his assistant, Chrissy Hunter, all week. He fielded our many (sometimes wild) questions with solid expertise as we attempted to find the perfect scenarios for our fictional crime-fighters and criminals.

Thanks as well to Lee Lofland and Writers’ Police Academy for making it all possible. Amazing experience!

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

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Fingerprint Collection from Difficult Surfaces…and AFIS

Fingerprint Collection from Difficult Surfaces (& AFIS) at Sirchie

We often hear it said on TV and in the movies that there are items and surfaces that do not hold fingerprints or that fingerprints cannot be recovered from them. On Day #4 of the Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes held at the Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories in NC, we experimented with a variety of surfaces to see what would happen if…

Skin is reported to be one of the most difficult surfaces from which to lift a print, because the prints fade so quickly. But, after three days of dusting and chemically treating and lifting and photographing dubious fingerprints, our group of dogged writer/investigators was not to be deterred.

The set of prints in the photograph below were lifted from an arm. Not clothing, the arm itself. And not by using fingerprint powder on the arm. A classmate kindly offered up her arm to be grabbed. Then a piece of specially treated paper (chromicoat) was pressed onto the area of her arm where the fingerprints were likely to be found. That paper was then dusted with fingerprint powder and the prints popped up. We now knew it was possible to lift the prints if they were minutes old, but we had access to both the specially treated paper and the powder immediately after the grab. We also knew from experience that our grabber always left really good prints on all the surfaces touched during the previous days.

We proposed various scenarios to our instructor (equally curious Robert Skiff, Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist). What if a mugger grabbed a bare arm and tried to drag us into an alley? How close would we have to be to the police station after we got away from the mugger in order to get the prints processed? How much time did we have before they faded away? Would the lift work if we used plain paper, since it was highly unlikely that an ordinary gal would be carrying chromicoat paper in a pocket? What if the police station wasn’t close by, therefore no access to fingerprint powder?

The answers were time sensitive. It was possible to lift prints from a bare arm with plain paper, but only if the lift was made during the first few minutes and only if the suspect left a strong sample. It’s possible to use cigarette ashes as a substitute for the fingerprint powder. Conclusions? There were too many variables for this to be a reliable way to catch a crook. Now…if you were grabbed around the corner from a police station OR were a smoker AND the mugger had dirty hands AND you had a clean piece of paper in your pocket AND you had attended this class… Hmmm…maybe in a sci-fi mystery. However, not completely impossible.

Lift from skin using Chromicoat treated paper

Another difficult surface from which to lift prints is the dashboard of a car. Think about it. If you press your hand onto a dashboard, your skin (with all the loops and whorls and arches) is also pressing into the crevices of the pebbled surface. Same thing is true for an orange or a football. A straight gel lift or hinge lifter will not do the job effectively. A tape lift may only pick up the top of the print.

Dashboard surface

But, the investigator sees the possible print and doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to catch the crook. The answer in the past was to dust the likely area with magnetic fingerprint powder, then apply a Blue Glue gel and wait for the gel to cure before lifting it off the dash—about five hours. FIVE hours? The crook is getting away! No time to wait!

These days, the preferred lifting product (after applying the magnetic powder to enhance the print) is a transparent liquid silicone (PVS200—polyvinyl siloxane), applied with an extruder gun. It flows down into the crevices, dries in six minutes, and gets into every bit of the print. After the polyvinyl dries, it can be lifted, and then placed on a backing card to preserve the print. At that point, it can be placed under an Optical Comparator, photographed, and sent off to AFIS for an ID/comparison.

This epoxy is not good for every surface (it rips paper, etc) but is very good for pitted, bumpy surfaces like alligator skin and dashboards. Gotcha!

Dashboard Lift

Another tricky scenario: The cop is in pursuit of an unidentified car thief or robber and chases him through a parking lot. The cop witnesses the suspect firmly planting his palm on the trunk of a car as he cuts through a tight space. The cop grins as he realizes that even if the guy outruns him, he can catch him through the palm print. And, then, it starts to pour. Does the print get washed away? Or become unusable?

Not if the Field Kit is handy! When forced to do a wet lift, it is possible to use SPR (Small Particle Reagent – finely ground particles suspended in a detergent solution). Spray the print with a fine mist of SPR and let set. Lay the hinge lifter just off the print and place it down carefully, employing a squeegee at the same time, to slowly remove the excess water. This method can be used to develop prints on non-porous surfaces—cans, bottles, windows, and other glossy surfaces, but not on paper or cardboard.

Wet Lift

Criminals who tie their victims up during the commission of a crime frequently use duct tape for the job. That duct tape is almost always full of prints that get embedded into the tape. It’s practically impossible to manipulate and tear the tape while wearing gloves (I tried this once and the gloves got so stuck to the tape that I threw the resulting mess away), so he leaves prints while unrolling and tearing the tape. Even if he has wiped the smooth surface of the tape clean to cover his identity, the sticky side can’t be wiped without taking away the sticky. Balls of tape tossed aside by a suspect have been processed successfully for prints, but first the tape had to be released from itself.

Separating folded duct tape from itself

A 2% chloroform tape release agent is dropped liberally on the area where the two pieces of tape meet. Two people need to work together on this—one person places the drops continuously while the other person pulls the tape apart. The ends of the tape are folded over (about ¼”) and the tape is flattened for 24 hours before further processing.

Adhesive-side Developer

After 24 hours, adhesive-side developer is applied to the sticky side of the duct tape, allowed to sit for a few minutes, then rinsed off and voila! The prints are clearly visible, can be photographed, covered with clear tape to protect them, viewed under the Optical Comparator, entered into the system, and sent off to AFIS. (Crystal Violet can also be used for processing this type of print, but is toxic and should only be used in a lab.)

Duct tape prints

AFIS – what is it and does it really help identify a person of interest in a crime?

Anyone who has watched TV crime shows during the last decade has heard the acronym AFIS. It stands for Automated Fingerprint Identification System. In 1924, the FBI started a fingerprint identification system. They fingerprinted several thousand prisoners incarcerated at Leavenworth, and stored their prints on cards.

Today, the system has broadened to include international prints as well, is an electronic database of 70 million, and contains the prints of people who have been arrested at every level of crime. The FBI also includes prints of people fingerprinted as a result of employment, or security assessments purposes such as authorized Federal background check programs and military service. The latest FBI version is named IAFIS (I is for Integrated).

Johnny Leonard, a latent fingerprint expert, visited the class in the afternoon to explain what AFIS can and can’t do. He showed us what a fingerprint examiner looks for in every print or partial print he/she sees, using the Henry Fingerprint Classification and Identification method. The average number of minutiae on every complete print is between 100 and 150. There are distinct ridge patterns to look for in a print: arches, loops and whorls.

65% of all fingerprint patterns are loops,

30% are whorls,

and only 5% of fingerprint patterns are arches.

Thumb prints are the prints most often left at a crime scene, because people use their thumbs for leverage when pushing through doors or opening safes, or grabbing those golf clubs to use as weapons, etc.

Identifying 8-12 points of similarity between an unknown latent print found at a crime scene and one in the AFIS database is the standard for declaring a match, but some jurisdictions want more for absolute certainty. An examiner plots the print in question for distinct characteristics, makes notes to that effect before sending the print off and waits. AFIS & IAFIS return a list (sometimes as many as 30) of possible matches. At this point, the examiner reviews the possibles and chooses the best match in his/her opinion. And, it might not be the first on the list. Then, another examiner verifies the possible match. There is no such thing as an instantaneous match with just one print from the AFIS or IAFIS databases. TV tells us otherwise, but sorry, that’s merely for dramatic effect.

Other interesting fingerprint details:

*We know that no two people can have the same fingerprints, but not even the same person’s prints are identical.

*Some people have all three types of ridge patterns on one finger.

*Only positive matches from the state AFIS are verified by examiners; not the negative ones.

*Palm prints are now in the AFIS database.

*AFIS looks for change of direction in the whorls, loops, and arches in order to find a match.

*There has not been a case yet where the DNA has not matched the fingerprints at the scene.

The photo below shows a positive match between a latent print and one in the database. The latent is on the left. The database print is on the right. This match placed the suspect at the scene and along with other evidence, resulted in a conviction.

AFIS Match

Having been through four days of training, working with prints on a variety of surfaces, we felt confident that we were up to the challenge of matching a few fingerprints on our own. Mr. Leonard showed us 16 pairs of prints and gave us 15 minutes to make decisions. We looked for cluster highlights, tented arches, spots, bifurcations and other techy details. Guess what? The lines began to blur, and not all of us correctly identified all the matches.

TV makes it look easy, with a click and a less than five-minute response time from IAFIS. Not possible, with 70 million fingerprints to choose from. This is not an easy job.

Next up: Footwear and other fun ID techniques

 

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

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Blood And Other Bodily Fluids: Collecting The Evidence

Blood and Other Bodily Fluids – Sirchie Evidence Collection Training Classes

by Patti Phillips

The morning of Day #3 of Evidence Collection Training classes at the Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories in Youngsville, NC was spent on the tour of the company’s manufacturing facility. We watched as fiberglass fingerprint brushes were made from start to finish, saw riot helmets being assembled, heard the printing presses rhythmically slap logos and directions onto stacks of waiting cardboard, saw employees counting and rechecking boxes of supplies and chemicals. We witnessed a smoothly running facility. That’s what it takes to insure that the products the law enforcement community uses to catch and prosecute the criminals work. Every time, without fail.

After the tour, Robert Skiff (Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist at Sirchie) told us about a new method of fingerprint enhancement developed in Scotland. A bullet can be placed in the middle of an apparatus that shoots electric current into the cartridge and reveals the moisture from a print. This method was demonstrated on a recent episode of Rizzoli & Isles. Kudos to the show’s writers for including this fascinating technology!

Another interesting piece of equipment is the ElectroStatic Dust Print Lifter. Impressions left at a crime scene in the dust on the floor, or on dusty doors or walls, can now be lifted and preserved. A shot of electricity is applied to foil cellophane and any dust below/behind the lifting mat will stick to it. If there is a palm print or fingerprint, it will show up as a mirror image of the original. Rough floors or brick surfaces where a suspect may have jumped, can now be processed using this lifting method.

Our next training segment dealt with blood and other bodily fluids.

Bloody crime scenes are horrific, but law enforcement officers have to put their feelings aside in order to process and maintain the chain of evidence. Everything they do is aimed at furthering a case to convict, so the scene needs to be secured in order to keep people or animals from contaminating the evidence. If blood is visible at the scene, photographs are taken before the collection process disturbs anything. The photos assist in showing the overall patterns and placement of the drops and splatters. Investigators can determine the approximate place in the room where the victim was first struck, whether the victim was dragged or bludgeoned or shot, if there were one or several victims involved, the velocity of the strike, whether there are arterial spurts, etc.

Bloodstain Patterns

Blood Drip Patterns

In order to accurately demonstrate and then analyze the scope and nature of the spatters, the area covered with visible blood is measured and scaled (paper rulers are applied next to the surface being photographed).

Blood Spatter Tagging and Scaling

Then it is tagged with information that will help the investigators figure out the sequence of events during the commission of the crime.

Blood spatter trail

Specific characteristics of the droplets – whether there is a tail or shaped like an ellipse or a circle, whether small or large circular drops – all reveal information to the investigators and examiners. TV and movie watchers often hear the phrase ‘blunt force trauma’ as a cause of death. This most likely means that the victim has been struck with a baseball bat or a bottle, or a golf club (my fave fictional instrument of death) with medium velocity, so the droplets will be medium sized. (See the drop several inches in front of Mr. Skiff’s finger)

A high velocity hit (from a bullet) will have smaller droplets because the blood is broken into smaller pieces as it leaves the body and is sprayed onto the walls or floors.

Weapons that are close to the scene or involved in the crime, may get blood on them. They need to be processed for blood as well as prints.

An area of interest is blocked out for the photographer and/or investigator

After the visual scans of the room for the visible blood, and the initial photography has been completed, then the areas of possible bloodstains can be swabbed, the samples bagged and identified (as to placement in the room). Presumptive tests can be conducted at the scene, using the Field Kits that contain chemicals commonly used for this purpose. Presumptive tests can help eliminate stains that are not blood, but the stains cannot positively be identified as blood until taken to the lab for confirmation – a detail that TV crime shows frequently fudge.

An added level of security for preserving a sample is to make transfers from the original or take chips of the original, but not test the original. That insures that additional tests can be conducted at a later time on the original or pieces of it.

Three transfers were made from an Unknown Stain and then tested with various chemicals.

Latent Bloodstain Reagents

The third transfer was sprayed with a bloodstain reagent, and then the lights were turned off. The Unknown Stain luminesced, therefore indicating the presence of heme, a portion of hemoglobin.

If there is no visible blood in the room, but a crime has been reported as having been committed at that site, it is common practice for investigators to work in teams to process the room. The room is darkened, one investigator sprays the walls with a blood search product, while the other marks (tags) the spots that luminesce. The lights are turned on and then the room is photographed, then processed/tested. The method of spraying and tagging is repeated for floors as well.

It’s worthwhile to note that blood cannot be destroyed with paint. No matter how many coats, no matter what color paint is covering the evidence of the deed, the tests will always reveal that blood has been spattered beneath it. It gets into every crack and crevice. And it just can’t be washed away. Remember the ‘trace evidence rule’? A crook always leaves something behind.

For all you crime show TV junkies out there (I’m one of them): that red blood you see on the bed or wall or floor (hours after a murder has been committed on the show) is strictly for visceral effect. Human blood turns brown or almost black as it dries.

Sexual Assault Collection Kit Record

Unfortunately, reports of sexual assault crimes are on the rise. But, ‘He said, she said,’ cases are difficult to prosecute because there are rarely any witnesses to the crimes. Samples taken from the victims need to be pristine and chain of custody must be clearly established. Clothing and bodily fluids need to be collected from the victim as soon as possible after the crime in order to have a chance of catching and prosecuting the perpetrator. A good practice for evidence collection from victims who arrive at the hospital is to have them disrobe while standing in the middle of a sheet. Then the sheet corners can be pulled together, keeping as much evidence as possible intact. Rape victims may not wish to be touched, but swabbing their bodies for fluids, then bagging and testing whatever is collected, may be the only way to tie a suspect to the rape.

A presumptive test can provide important information to include (or exclude) a possible suspect from consideration. There will be an instant (up to 3 seconds) reaction if the unknown substance at the scene or on the victim’s body contains seminal fluid. If the results take longer than that to appear, it must be reported that a false-positive has been found. This might happen if there is not enough of a sample or if the transfer made from the original sample was not good enough.

Rape and homicide evidence is kept for years. Bagged, tagged, stored. Photographed and entered in databases as well. If the suspects aren’t caught right away, then the evidence is still there, waiting in storage, to be matched to other evidence that pops up in later crimes.

Next up:  Lifting prints from difficult surfaces, AFIS

*Sirchie instructors Robert Skiff and Dave Pauly are two of the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy instructors.

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

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Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories Tour With Patti Phillips

The Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories Tour

During the first two days of Evidence Collection Training, we used a number of chemicals, fingerprint powders, and brushes, and employed several different fingerprint lifting techniques on a variety of tricky surfaces. We discussed the benefits of both cheap and costly Alternate Light Sources.

Our notebooks were filling up and theories of the perfect crime were flying around the class. We kept quizzing Robert Skiff, our instructor, (Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist) about ways to ‘get away with the murder of the decade.’ But, as we learned, there is no perfect crime. That pesky trace evidence will always be waiting at every scene for the investigator to discover it, photograph it, tag it, bag it, and transport it without losing the integrity of the sample.

It was time to visit the plant – see how the powders, brushes, and other crime scene paraphernalia were made.

Sirchie manufactures most of its products in-house. The specialized vehicles for SWAT, bomb rescue, arson investigation, and surveillance work, etc., are built in New Jersey, but the smaller products are produced right in North Carolina.

Security was carefully controlled throughout our tour. Most of our group writes crime fiction, so we are always looking for a way our fictional criminals can break in (or out of) a wild assortment of locations. As we walked through the stacks and aisles of products, we commented to each other on the smooth organization and many checks Sirchie had in place. Cameras everywhere. Limited access to the assembly floor. Labyrinths a person could easily get turned around in. If we got separated from the group while taking an extra photo or two, we were found and escorted back by an always friendly employee.

Of course, we couldn’t turn into rogue students anyway. Our fingerprints littered the classroom and they knew where we lived.

Security plays a part in the assembly model as well. Each product they create is put together from start to finish by hand. There are no assembly lines because of trade secrets and a dedication to preserving product integrity. Personnel are carefully screened before being hired and qualification for employment includes graduate degrees. No criminal history whatsoever is allowed. Every employee comes through the Evidence Collection Training Class so that they understand what Sirchie does as a whole.

Templates for the various products are created in-house. The operators of these machines are highly trained experts. Quality control is paramount, so training is constant.

All the printing is done in-house. The printing area was stacked with cases of items being packaged for shipment. We saw ink strips large enough to process tire treads.

Field Kits are created for general use by investigators, but can be specifically designed for a special need. The small vials contain enough chemicals to test unknown stains and substances at the scene. Note the dense foam holding the vials and bottles firmly in place. The kits are usually kept in the trunk and probably get tossed around quite a bit. The foam insures against breakage during car chases and while bumping across uneven road surfaces.

There are fiberglass brushes, feather dusters for the very light powder, regular stiffer brushes, and magnetic powder brush applicators.

If a handgun is seized for evidence, there needs to be a simple, yet effective way to track chain of possession.

*Bag the gun to preserve the fingerprints and

*drop the gun in the box.

*Then fill in the blanks on the box.

*Easy to stack and store until needed.

Think of all the cases that may be ongoing in a large jurisdiction – the evidence is not sitting at the police station. It’s in a warehouse someplace, and needs to be easily identified when required for court. In addition to several sized boxes for guns and knives, etc. Sirchie also provides an incredible assortment of resealable plastic bags for preserving evidence like clothing, unidentified fibers, etc.

Magnetic powder was being processed that day and then put into rows and rows of jars and jugs. Before it is sent out to the customers, each lot is tested for moisture content, appropriate ratio of ingredients and other trade secret tests. We joked about taking some back to class for the next round of fingerprint study and were surprised by how heavy the jugs were.

No, she’s not making bullets. She is assembling the cyanowand cartridges used for fuming with superglue.

Sirchie makes riot gear.

This is not a photo of something from a SyFy movie. At the center of the shot is a helmet template. The drills encircling the template are aimed at spots where holes are needed for each helmet, depending on the type of helmet in production. All the holes are drilled at the same time.

The helmet before anything has been added to it.

Helmet padding

Buckles for the helmets

Padding is inserted after the buckles are attached.

Helmet components

Completed Riot Helmet

The Optical Comparator, as well as the other machines, are built to order by hand.

While in the warehouse, we learned that if a product is discontinued, it is still supported by Sirchie. That means that if a law enforcement officer calls up with a problem a few years after purchasing a machine, he can still get help. Reassuring for jurisdictions with a tight budget that can’t afford to replace expensive equipment every year or two.

Sirchie sends supplies to TV shows, so next time you’re watching a fave detective or examiner lift prints with a hinge lifter, it may have come from Sirchie.

Great tour, great people who work so hard to keep the law enforcement community supplied with the gear needed to catch the bad guys.

Next up: Bloodstains

 

Patti Phillips is a mystery writer/photographer/reviewer whose best investigative days are spent writing, cooking, traveling for research, and playing golf. Her time on the golf course was murderously valuable while creating the perfect alibi for the chief villain in Patti’s novel, “One Sweet Motion.” Did you know that there are spots on the golf course that can’t be accessed by listening devices? Of course, it helps to avoid suspicion if you work on lowering your handicap while plotting the dirty deeds.

Patti Phillips writes the online detective blog, www.kerriansnotebook.com. (Detective Kerrian chats about life as a detective as well as the central case in “One Sweet Motion.”) Patti’s book reviews of mysteries and thrillers can be found on the Facebook, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble sites. Her own review site, ‘Nightstand Book Reviews’ is coming soon.

Patti is a transplanted metropolitan New Yorker/north Texan, now living in the piney state of North Carolina.

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A Rare Peek Inside The Elite Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories

I could barely contain my excitement as I made the three-hour drive from our N.C. home, near Mayberry, to the 130 acre Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories compound. After all, the folks at Sirchie are probably the best in the world at what they do. And the mere thought of the many superstars of crime-fighting from around the world who’ve been trained at Sirchie is almost overwhelming. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of crimes that have been solved using Sirchie products—products that are made right there on the compound.

After traveling for what seemed like an eternity, while answering emails and phone calls regarding the Writers’ Police Academy, the sprawling Sirchie property appeared on my right. The first thing that caught my attention was the golf-course-like green grass that stretched as far as the eye could see. And it was surrounded by what appeared to be an endless, gleaming, white 3-rail fence. A large gate, complete with a coded-entry system, was the only break in the fence. Very impressive.

I made the right turn off the winding country road I’d been traveling since I left the bustle of interstate traffic and headed through the opening in the metal gates. Two or three huge, white buildings sat at the end of the drive. And there was a beautifully-landscaped pond in front (I later learned the pond was even stocked with fish). There were no signs, identifying markers—nothing—to let anyone know that this was indeed Sichie. But I soon saw a personalized license plate on a vehicle that let me know I was in the right place. The lettering had something to do with crime scene investigation. Bingo.

Anyway, the purpose of my trip was to meet with the folks who run the massive Sirchie operation to discuss their involvement with the Writers’ Police Academy. I can’t begin to tell you how lucky the attendees of the WPA are to have the opportunity to learn from Sirchie instructors. They’re the best-of-the-best and they teach the best-of-the-best. Needless to say, this is a rare opportunity and I’m so pleased to be a part of it.

After our meeting, I was given a tour of the place. And here’s a little of what I saw.

Impression evidence

All sorts of goodies filled tabletops, such as these flashlights equipped with special lenses used for seeing what the naked eye can’t.

Assembling narcotics field-testing kits.

Extensive instruction on bloodstain patterns is offered at Sirchie. WPA recruits will have the opportunity to attend one of these fascinating workshops.

Bloodstain class area.

Learning to recognize patterns.

Road-mapping to determine Area Of Origin.

How would you like to attend some of the extremely elite and specialized law enforcement-only classes at Sirchie? Well, you know me. I’ve got something up my sleeve that just might get you inside this very private world. Interested? Stay tuned…

 

 

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