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There’s more to evidence collection than merely bagging and tagging bloody clothing and spent bullet casings. Crime scene techs are highly trained, skilled members of police agencies and forensic laboratories who more often than not provide the keys to solving cases.

In the “good old days,” many officers, including patrol officers, collected their own evidence (some still do, especially in smaller departments). They plodded into and poked around crime scenes, determining what items they thought might be of some value and then tossed those things into some sort of container—a grocery bag, department envelope, cardboard box, and even the cellophane wrappings from cigarette packs. In those days there wasn’t a lot of consideration for sterility, and DNA hadn’t yet made its way on the “scene.”

When investigators finally discovered plastic sandwich and ziplock bags you’d have thought they’d won the lottery, because packaging evidence had suddenly become a breeze. The problem with those new-fangled containers, though, was that detectives were placing everything in them, not knowing they could be destroying or damaging evidence instead of preserving it. And that brings us to the question of …

Paper or Plastic?

There’s a simple rule of thumb for deciding which type of evidence packaging—wet evidence goes in paper containers (wet evidence can degrade if placed inside plastic containers) and dry evidence goes in plastic. Items that could be cross-contaminated must be packaged separately. There’s a rule of thumb for other types of evidence, too, and here’s a handy list for the proper packaging of those items.

Hair – Double packaging in paper is best. However, if the hair is completely dry, plastic will work in a pinch. Hairs recovered from different locations must be packaged separately and labeled accordingly. Tape all packaging seams.

Fibers – Dry, and tape-lifted, fibers may be placed inside plastic containers.

Rope, twine, and other cordage – Paper or plastic.

Paint chips – Place inside folded paper. Then place the paperfold inside an envelope.

Tools – Paper or cardboard.

Tape – Wear non-powdered gloves when handling tape. Submit samples inside plastic. If the tape is stuck to an item the item must be submitted with the tape still attached. Do not remove the tape!

Glass – Wrap in paper. Smaller pieces may be placed inside appropriate size cartons.

Arson and other fire evidence – Airtight metal containers. Unused paint cans work best.

Dried stains – Wrap stained item in paper or place inside cardboard box. Large items – moisten swab with distilled water, swab the stain, and package in paper or cardboard after drying.

Blood – Allow to air dry and then package in paper.

Evidence drying lockers

DNA – NEVER use plastic!
And when I mentioned that wet evidence is packaged in paper containers I did NOT mean to pour liquids into paper bags. Instead, items that contain wet evidence (bloody and/or semen-stained clothing, etc.) should be placed into paper containers.

Proper evidence collection is a must if your protagonists have any shred of hope of winning a murder case in the fictional courtrooms you’ve fabricated solely from ink and paper.

In fact, the only chance your DNA DA has is to present fact when testifying to the make-believe judges and juries you’ve concocted in those fantasy worlds that live in the far corners of your twisted minds.

So here are a scant few basics to correct the errors I’ve found lately while reading during my personal graveyard shift, otherwise known as the hours between midnight and three when insomnia pulls my eyelids wide open.

Anyway, here’s how to properly collect and store the follow items of evidence (please do not use television as a source for this stuff!):

Cigarette butts – Do not use bare hands to collect. Instead, used gloved hands or forceps. Do not submit ashes. Always air dry the butts before packaging and, to preserve DNA, do NOT package in plastic bags or other plastic containers.

Chewing gum – Collect using forceps or gloved hands. As with cigarette butts, air dry and  then place into a clean paper envelope or similar packaging. Never use plastic bags or other plastic containers. Plastic acts as an incubator for bacteria, which could degrade or destroy DNA.

Hair – Use caution to prevent damaging the the root ball. Collect gently, using clean forceps (clean, to prevent cross-contamination of DNA). If the hair is wet or damp, air dry before packaging in paper with edges folded and sealed, or place and seal in a paper envelope.

Human or animal tissue – Collect approximately two cubic inches of red muscular tissue (if possible). As with other DNA evidence collection of solid material, use clean forceps or gloves. Remember to change gloves when handling different items to avoid cross-contamination. Place the tissue in a clean, airtight container. Never use formalin or other preservatives such as formaldahyde. When shipping to a testing lab, freeze the sample and send via overnight transportation service, packed in dry ice in a styrofoam container, or hand deliver.

Bones and teeth – Use forceps and/or gloved hands for collection. Collect whole bones if possible. Place bones and teeth in paper containers with sealed edges. Store out of light and humidity, and may be frozen if samples are previously air dried.

 

 

 

Blood and saliva –  Store out of light and humidity, and may be frozen if samples are previously air dried.

 

To add to the thrills of the Writers’ Police Academy’s 10th anniversary celebration, we are extremely pleased to make available to you, by SEALED BID, several exiting opportunities of a lifetime. One of those absolutely fabulous and unique offerings is a spot in the private weeklong, “law enforcement only” Crime Scene Investigation course at the elite Sirchie compound near Raleigh, N.C. (Two spots are available. The top two bids win – one spot per bid). That’s right, you will train and learn alongside some of the top investigators in the country! This course is not available to the general public.

To be the lucky winner of one of these rare and exclusive spots available only from the Writers’ Police Academy, simply send your bid to 2018WPAAuction@gmail.com.If the link doesn’t take you to your email service, then please simply copy and paste the address.

Bidding is open to everyone and you do not have to present to win.

Good luck!!


*Sirchie is the Global Leader in Crime Scene Investigation and Forensic Science Solutions; providing quality Products, Vehicles, and Training to the global law enforcement and forensic science communities.

Course Description

Our Evidence Collection and Processing Training Program provides law enforcement professionals and crime scene investigators with hands on training using forensic tools that will help to execute the best crime scene investigation mission possible.

This class, commonly known as Crime Scene Technology, covers the scientific methods of collection, identification, evaluation, and preservation of physical evidence.  It is the perfect Forensics training for any investigator from new detectives to police officers with more than 25 years on the force.

You need to attend this program if:

  • You process crime scenes
  • You want to learn more about the latest forensic  and crime scene investigation tools and techniques used to process potential crime scenes
  • You want to find as much evidence as possible at the crime scene

COURSE CURRICULUM:

Crime Scene Management

The various types and categories of physical evidence are reviewed with the emphasis being placed on the proper procedures for securing the crime scene and preparing to collect evidence.

Fingerprint Theory and Classification

The fundamental principles of fingerprints are examined, including the basic concepts of ridge pattern development, identification characteristics and classification methods. Students will review latent print comparison methods with emphasis on understanding AFIS and modern latent print identification techniques.

Latent Print Processing —Powders

The proper use of oxide, metallic, magnetic, and fluorescent powders is discussed. Students will develop latent prints on a variety of surfaces including paper, glass, plastic, and even textured surfaces. Students will experience lifting powder developed latent prints using tape, hinge lifters, gel lifters, and Accutrans. Utilizing photography and light source for proper documentation is reviewed.

Latent Print Processing – Chemicals

During this segment, students will develop latent prints on porous surfaces, including paper and cardboard, utilizing iodine fuming, ninhydrin and silver nitrate. Students will review proper process sequencing for the maximum retrieval of latent prints and review the chemical principles of how they work. Cyanoacrylate (superglue) techniques for non-porous surfaces will be demonstrated also.

Crime Scene and Evidence Photography

Procedures and techniques are discussed and demonstrated for properly documenting a crime scene through photography. Also reviewed and demonstrated are key camera settings such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, as well as proper accessories and equipment for properly capturing evidence quality photos.

Controlled Substances Identification

Students will work with presumptive field test kits that offer screening of the most commonly abused drugs and narcotics.

Serial Number Restoration

Working with various metallic and plastic surfaces, students will restore obliterated serial numbers. Liquid and gel reagents are used in conjunction with the electron accelerator.

Firearms,  Ballistics, and Gun Shot Residue

Identification of firearms and the fundamentals of ammunition and its manufacture, behavior, and destructive effects is discussed. Fundamentals of gunshot residue, including determining proximity and presumptive testing for GSR are reviewed and demonstrated. Students will also be exposed to basic shooting reconstruction and proper documentation of shooting incidents.

Alternate Lights and RUVIS

The use of alternate light sources to identify evidence at the scene as well as enhance contrast with fingerprint powders and chemicals is reviewed. RUVIS, using the SIRCHIE Krimesite Imager, will be used to demonstrate a non-intrusive technique for discovering latent prints at the crime scene without powders or chemicals.

Biological Evidence – Blood, Fluids, and DNA

Students learn proper methods to locate, identify, and collect physiological fluid stains. Proper search methods including alternate light sources and chemical search methods including luminol and Bluestar are demonstrated. Students will also learn how to presumptively identify the type of stain using chemical reagents. Collection and preservation methods will be reviewed based on the latest best practices for DNA.

Digital Device Forensics Intro

Proper collection of digital devices, including computers and cell phones, will be reviewed. Students will learn the fundamentals, including data that can be extracted from these devices, the legal aspects of data, and ways to preserve data through proper packaging and Faraday techniques.

Footprint, Tire, and Toolmark Impression Evidence

Impression evidence types and their value in criminal investigation will be reviewed. Students will learn and experience methods for capturing footwear tread impressions, including magnetic powder development, electrostatic dust print lifting, and dental stone casting. Principles of footwear and tire comparison will be shown, including proper documentation for the lab and court.

* Students also investigate a mock crime scene as teams and present their findings over lunch on the last day.


Other sealed SEALED BID offerings are unbelievably exciting, and they include:

– Lunch with Lee Child in New York City
– A character name in Craig Johnson’s next book
– A guitar signed by the Grammy Award-winning singing group, the Oak Ridge Boys
– A Murder She Wrote script signed by head writer Tom Sawyer
– A character name in Stuart Woods’ next book

Please send you bids to 2018WPAAuction@gmail.com

*Photos and course descriptions ~ Sirchie

Homicide investigations are the crème de la crème of all investigations.

To solve a murder investigators use all available resources. No-holds barred. No sparing of the horses. No waiting for the obese lady to start her song. Sometimes it’s a race to catch the killer before he strikes again. But detectives must still use caution and care when evaluating and examining all evidence, including the crime scene.

To maintain order, and to prevent disaster in court, detectives and other crime-scene investigators follow a mental checklist of things to do at a murder scene. Some use an actual written guideline. The list is actually a series of common sense questions that need to be answered before moving to the next stage of the investigation.

Crime Scene Dos and Don’ts – Click here.

Investigators should always determine what, if anything, has changed since the first responders arrived. Did the officers turn lights on or off? Did they move the body to check for signs of life? Did anyone else enter or leave the scene?

Crime Scenes … Watch Your Step!

Did the patrol guys open or close windows and doors? Did they walk through blood or other body fluids?

Crime-scene searches must be methodical and quite thorough. Every single surface, nook, and cranny must be examined for evidence, including ceilings, walls, doors, light switches, thermostats, door knobs, etc. Not only are they searching for clues and evidence, they’re looking for things that aren’t there, such as a missing knife, jewelry, or even the family car. Did the suspect take anything that could be traced back to the victim? Where would the killer take the items? To a pawn shop? Home? Toss them in a nearby dumpster?

Investigators must determine if the body has been moved by the suspect. Are there drag marks? Smeared body fluids? Transfer prints? Is there any blood in other areas of the scene? Is fixed lividity on the wrong side of the body, indicating that it had been moved after death

Does the victim exhibit signs of a struggle? Are there defensive wounds present on the palms of the hands and forearms?

Is there significant blood spatter? Is there high-velocity spatter? Did flies cause false spatter?

What is the point of impact? Where was the shooter standing when he delivered the fatal blow, or shot

False spatter – “Hey, it’s what I do,” said the fly.

Once the detective is satisfied that all the checklist questions have been answered she can then move on to the next phase of the murder investigation, collecting physical evidence.

A.

AAFS – American Academy of Forensic Science

Abandonment:  Knowingly giving up one’s right to property without further intending to reclaim or gain possession. Abandoned property can be searched by police officers without a search warrant. Most states deem it illegal to abandon motor vehicles, and the owner may be summoned to civil court to answer charges, pay fines, or to receive notice of vehicle impoundment and disposal.

Abduction:  The criminal act of taking someone away by force, depriving that person of liberty or freedom. A person who has been kidnapped against their will has been abducted. This definition does not apply to a law-enforcement officer in the performance of his duties.

*FYI writers – Local police agencies can and do investigate kidnapping/abduction cases. I’ve worked and solved several. The FBI does NOT have to be called for abduction cases.

Abscond:  To covertly leave the jurisdiction of the court or hide to avoid prosecution or arrest. A suspect who “jumps bail” or hides from police, while knowing a warrant has been issued for her arrest, has absconded from justice. Film director/producer Roman Polanski absconded to France before he could be sentenced for having unlawful sex with a minor.

Adipocere – Waxy substance found on decomposing bodies (consisting of fatty tissue). Also known as grave wax.

Affidavit – Written statement of facts given under oath.

ALS (Alternate Light Source): Lighting equipment used to enhance/visualize potential evidence.

APIS – Automated Palmprint Identification System.

Armed Robbery:  Robbery is the act of taking, or seizing, someone’s property by using force, fear, or intimidation. Using a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, to carry out the same robbery constitutes an armed robbery. You have NOT been robbed when someone breaks into your home while you’re away and steals your TV.

 

B.

Badge Bunny:  Nickname given by police officers to females who prefer to date only police officers and firemen. Many of these badge bunnies actively pursue recent police academy graduates to the point of actually stalking the officers. Some have even committed minor offenses and made false police complaints to be near the officers they desire. Many police academies mention badge bunnies near the end of the officer’s academy training to prepare them for the possible situation.

BDU – Battle dress uniform (often worn by crime scene investigators, SWAT, canine officers, and entry teams).

BioFoam – A substance used to make impressions.

Bond – Money or other security posted with the court to guarantee an appearance.

 

C.

Case File: Collection of documents pertaining to a specific investigation. The case file specific to a particular homicide investigation is sometimes called the “murder book.”

Case Identifiers: Specific numbers or alphabetic characters assigned to a specific case for the purpose of identification. For example – Case #ABC-123 or #987ZYX

Chalk Outline – This is a myth. Police DO NOT outline the bodies of murder victims. Why not? Because doing so would contaminate the scene. Tracing around the body could also move vital evidence. Crime scenes are photographed, not color-in with fingerprints or pastels.

Chase: Empty space inside a wall, floor, or ceiling that’s used for plumbing, electrical, and/or HVAC ductwork. A chase is a common hiding spot for illegal contraband and/or evidence (murder weapons, narcotics, stolen items, etc.).

CI – Confidential informant.

CSM – Crime scene management.

Complaint – Statement given under oath where someone accuses another person of a crime. Officers may also refer to a call as a complaint. “Man, I caught two loud music complaints in one hour last night.”

Complainant – Person who accuses another. Or, someone who called the police. “Go to 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The complainant’s name is Herman Munster.”

Cook – Make crack cocaine or methamphetamine.

 

D.

Dying Declaration: Statement about a crime made by a person who is about to die.

 

E.

EDTA – Anticoagulating agent (tubes containing EDTA have purple tops).

Electrostatic Dust Lifter: Device that electrically charges a piece of plastic film that’s placed over a print made in dust (a shoe or palm print, for example), which in turn causes the dust to adhere to the film. The result is a perfectly captured print that’s ready for photographing.

Fire triangle – Three must-haves for a fire to burn—heat, fuel, and oxygen.

 

F.

Floater – Body found in water.

 

H.

Hit – Outstanding warrant, or stolen. “We got a hit on that car.”

Hook ’em Up – To handcuff a prrisoner.

Hot – Stolen.

 

I.

IABPA – International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis.

Information – Paperwork (document) filed by a prosecutor that accuses someone of a crime.

 

K.

Knock and announce – Requirement that officers knock on the door and announce their presence when serving a search warrant. “Police. Search warrant!”

 

L.

Latent Print: Print that’s not readily visible to the human eye.

 

O.

OIC – Officer in charge.

 

P.

PC – Probable cause. “Do you have enough PC to get a warrant?”

Patent Print: A fingerprint that’s easily seen/visible with the naked eye, without the use of powders and/or chemical or other enhancements.

Plastic – Credit card.

Priors – Previous arrests.

PPE – Personal protective equipment.

Projectile Trajectory Analysis: The process used to determine the path traveled by a high-speed object (bullets, arrows, etc.).

 

R.

Ride the chair – Die by electrocution.

Ride the needle – Die by lethal injection.

Roll up – Arrest someone.

 

S.

Stripes – A sergeant’s patch or insignia.

 

T.

Tache noire – Drying of the eye that results in a black line across the cornea.

T-Bone – Broadsided in an crash.

Trace Evidence: Small bits of evidence, such as fibers, hairs, glass fragments, gunshot residue, etc.

 

U.

UC – Undercover officer.

 

V.

V Pattern – Pattern formed by fire burning on or against a wall. Usually the fire’s point of origin is at the peak of the V.

Verbal – A warning. “I gave him a verbal, but next time his butt’s going to jail.”

VIN – Vehicle Identification number. (“Run the VIN on that car to see if you get a hit.”)

Visual – Able to see something or someone. “Have you got a visual?”

 

W.

Walk – To get off a charge. Released without a record.

Write – Issue a summons.

“Did you write him?”

“Yep. 87 in a 55.”