Role of the Crime Scene Investigator
“Rus” Ruslander, MS, SCSA
chief duty of a Crime Scene Analyst is to endeavor to arrange and collate
numerous individual events, details and observations, which present themselves,
in an order that may become a part of a comprehensive picture. The crime scene
investigator will create a hypothesis based on physical evidence, of the actions
of the victims and suspects before, during and after a criminal event. The
analyst will also present those findings to a layperson, trier of fact and other
investigators in a form consistent with their level of understanding and
comprehension since they are the ultimate decider of facts in all cases.
mental framework that makes crime scene investigation enjoyable involves
curiosity, careful observation, discipline in recording events and ferreting out
underlying irregularities; regularities in what one sees, hears and discovers.
It requires the humility to learn from other investigators coupled with enough
skepticism and open mindedness to reject beliefs not supported by fact. It
requires a highly detail oriented mindset.
arriving at a scene, the investigator must do many things and process much
information. They are usually assaulted by the uniform officers and the
detectives, wanting to turn the scene responsibility over to them, and possibly
even the “brass” wanting information for press releases. They often find the
scene grossly contaminated by supposedly well meaning officers traipsing through
it. Sometimes these officers are even observed eating, drinking or using tobacco
products within the critical area. Officers have been known to outline the
victim or evidence with chalk or even fluorescent orange traffic paint. They
have gathered up shell casings and hidden them under paper cups thinking they
are being helpful.
scene investigator must be able to bring all this mayhem to a screeching halt
and take command of the situation. Bring order to chaos and organize and operate
the working of the crime scene as if it were a well rehearsed and choreographed
Broadway production. One thing must be remembered above all else, that is, an
incident occurred here! A human life may have been taken, or at very least, a
crime has been committed! By organizing, controlling, and working the scene
using the proper methods, the likelihood of a successful resolution will stand a
much better chance of being accomplished.
scene investigator needs to perform, to be the star of the incident. Become the
unsung hero if you will. The investigator should begin by meeting with the lead
detective and the first officer on the scene. By holding a brief interview
session with these 2 people, the investigator will receive information that can
assist them in understanding what happened, when it happened and the sequence of
the events that occurred. This can be done without the crime scene investigator
receiving so much information that his or her perspective will become tainted by
what the officer or detective think. It will be sharpened to the point of being
able to take the previously received information and meshing it with the
information gathered at the scene and coming to a logical and impartial
determination of the events.
of the crime scene investigator is similar to that of a judge. To gather the
facts, weigh the evidence and reach an impartial conclusion based on fact not
impulse or improperly based conclusions.
actual working of the scene begins when the call is received. As you respond,
you begin thinking about your impending activities, formulating a mental list of
what you will be doing, what equipment you will need and what assistance you
will require. Granted, this is in the formative stage. Actual needs will be
determined once you arrive at the scene and have the opportunity to determine
what actually happened. It is also necessary to ensure that the scene has been
secured with an adequate numbers of officers protecting it and you, as well as
keeping unauthorized personnel out. That it is large enough to encompass the
entire area to be worked. One person should be designated as the record keeper
(scribe) who records the name, ID number, date time and agency of everyone who
enters and leaves the scene.
has occurred, the crime scene investigator can begin working the scene by
photographing it from the outside working around in the entire 360 degrees of
the perimeter. Make sure photographs are taken of the entire exterior of the
scene from all angles. Take pictures of what is directly across from the scene
as well as up and down the street in opposite directions. Try to include such
things as natural and artificial lighting, street names and numbers, vehicles
and anything else that you feel could be necessary to preserve or record
photographically. Aerial photographs should also be taken, if the situation
warrants it. It is a good practice to keep a photo log of each picture taken.
This log would include the make and model of the camera, lens and flash you are
using, the type and speed of the film as well as the number of exposures on the
roll. The log would also include the direction the camera is pointing, the
f-stop, shutter speed and whether the flash was used or not. Video photography
is then taken to supplement the still photography and to give a sense of
“being there” to the potential viewers.
overall, exterior photos are taken, move in and look for any evidence that will
be photographed. This includes such things as footwear or tire impressions,
damage to doors, windows or shrubbery. Any property that is located outside that
appears to have come from inside should be photographed too. Any signs of
serological evidence, ballistic evidence or damage will also be photographed.
All of these items must be photographed using overall, midrange and close-up,
including close-up with scales, photography. All numbered or lettered markers
that are used must be placed so that they are oriented on the same axis. This
way, when photographed, all the letters or numbers are in view within a single
exterior photographs are finally completed, a diagram should be completed. This
diagram will be a rough, hand drawn product that includes the location of any
items of evidence that have been photographed and measurements taken of the
scene and evidence. Triangulation, rectangular or baseline measurements are used
either singly or in combination. After the photos, diagrams and measurements are
completed, the evidence can be collected and preserved for later examination and
processing. Be sure to record the following information for each
item recovered; date, time, location, measurements, who collected it and
exterior work has been completed, it is now time to begin moving inside. Before
this is done however, it is necessary to determine whether a search warrant must
be obtained or anyone, or everyone, who has legal standing at the location, can
execute written consent forms. Remember, if consent is granted, it can also be
withdrawn at any time and the grantor must be present at all times so they can,
if they desire, withdraw that consent. What this means very simply is, you
cannot transport or otherwise remove the
grantor from the scene for any reason and still continue the search. If you do,
you will not be able to use any evidence seized in the prosecution of the case.
thing to be considered is what personal protective equipment will be worn. This
could include tyvek jumpsuits, rubber gloves, shoe and head covers, respirators
and splash protection. SCBA breathing apparatus or hardhats and safety shoes
could also be necessary. With regard to gloves, change them often to avoid cross
contamination. Remember, just because you have gloves on doesn’t mean you
cannot leave your own fingerprints at the scene. Wearing gloves does not prevent
the wiping away of fingerprint evidence on items either.
approaching or maneuvering through any scene, try to avoid walking, driving or
going anywhere the suspect(s) or victim(s) may have gone. This will prevent
unnecessary destruction or contamination of the scene and any evidence located
in it. Walk through the grass not on the sidewalk, walk around the edges of a
room not through the middle. Climb or descend stairs along the wall, not in the
middle or along the railing. The suspect is as lazy as you are and much less
aware of the potential for depositing evidence than you are. Use an access or
exit point that was not used by the suspects if at all possible. Establish a
safe path for everyone to use. This keeps all traffic confined to one area and
manageable. Consider using flags or brightly colored plastic surveyors tape to
create a safe path for use by anyone within the scene to use.
inside the threshold, begin photographing the interior. Work as you did outside,
in a logical manner. Always work in the same direction, either clockwise or
counter clockwise. Never change back and forth. This will prevent you from
missing something. Repetition is a good thing for the crime scene investigator.
Photograph so that a mosaic can be created, do this by paying attention to what
you see in the cameras viewfinder and allowing for some overlap as you pan the
camera across the room. Remember that any scene is 3 dimensional. Look at and
photograph the floors and ceilings too if necessary. Photograph the scene from
at least 2 opposite corners. Photographing from all 4 corners is best since it
will reduce the chance that something of importance will not be visible. It may
not show up from one or two angles but will, in all likelihood, be visible in
the third or fourth view.
overall photos have been taken, draw a diagram of this portion of the scene.
Include only major items of furniture and the doors and windows, victims and
evidence. Do not record pictures hanging on walls or things on the tables unless
it has some important involvement in the actual crime. Your photographs will
document these other items. Bear in mind, you photograph in toward the
“body” of the crime and search outward from it. Once the midrange photos
have been taken, take time to locate any evidence, signs of forced entry or
signs of a struggle. Now photograph these in the same manner. Upon completion of
the still photography, it is time to re-photograph everything using other
formats. These formats can include digital still cameras and video photography
as well as Polaroid, if your agency still uses that format. Any video
photography should be done without sound or narration. A very helpful
suggestion, learned the hard way, is prior to actually shooting any scene with a
video camera, put a cassette in it and turn it on, film for about 10 to 15
seconds of something that is not related to the crime scene, such as your
vehicle. Stop filming, rewind it and play the tape while you watch the screen or
viewfinder to make sure the camera was operating properly and recorded the
event. If so, you are now ready to use it on the actual scene. Never re-use a
tape, especially one that you may have recorded personal things on such as your
children at Christmas. In one case I saw, the crime scene investigator used his
department VHS-C video camera to record his grandchildren opening their
Christmas presents, transferred the images onto a VHS tape and put the used
VHS-C tape back in the camera case. The next homicide, there it was, his
grandchildren on the first few seconds of a tape of the homicide! You can
imagine the embarrassment he experienced in the trail at the hands of the
defense attorney. There should not be any people inside the scene while
photography and/or taping goes on and they should not be visible in any
photograph taken. A useful suggestion while photographing is, use your flash,
even in the daylight areas. This use of fill flash will enable you to record
information that may be hidden by shadows or the angle of the sun. Consider
altering the angle of your flash and bouncing the light off a ceiling in order
to reduce shadows behind the subject you are photographing. Sometimes the use of
additional, remote flashes, operated by light sensitive “slaves” can help.
And don’t forget “painting with light”. By locking the shutter of the
camera open and firing the flash numerous times around the area, you would be
able to light up the entire scene on one frame of film instead of using numerous
individual photos of the same area. This method can easily be accomplished with
the use of one assistant. This assistant does not need to be trained;
instructions usually take only a minute or so.
attention of the crime scene investigator turns toward identifying items of
evidentiary value, documenting their location and obtaining accurate, albeit,
“approximate” measurements. Remember, time and distance are ALWAYS
approximate. These items are then photographed individually using scales and
then collected. If they cannot be collected due to size or location, they should
be processed there. By processing, and this could include dusting for latent
fingerprints, swabbing for DNA and close examination for trace evidence, the
evidence is recovered even if the item must be left at the scene.
Items that are transportable should be carefully and properly packaged
for transport to the crime scene laboratory for processing under controlled
conditions. Consideration should also be given to using Super Glue fuming to
“fix” the latent fingerprint to the surface. This will prevent the
accidental destruction of the latent fingerprint in transit.
completion of the recording and collection of evidence, another walk through of
the scene should be done to make sure nothing has been overlooked. Discuss what
you have done and what you have found with the detective and other crime scene
investigators. We are human and do miss things. By critiquing the scene and your
activities before leaving, you reduce your chances of missing important
evidence. Remember, once the scene is released, it cannot be revisited in the
same condition it was in while you were there. Evidence missed becomes evidence
satisfied that the scene can be released, make sure all your equipment has been
collected and all the evidence accounted for. Proper disposal of trash is
mandatory. Decide whether you should put up notices or warnings on the exterior
of the building or room if chemicals were used inside. Is there a possibility of
liability against you or your agency if someone is contaminated with something
you introduced to the scene? Have you properly decontaminated yourself and your
equipment? Have you properly disposed of any contaminated items?
you have left the scene, transport you evidence to the laboratory. All film
should be turned in for processing to the photo lab. All serological evidence
should be air dried and turned over to the lab for processing or refrigerated as
soon as possible. Be sure to mark the outside of all packages with biohazard
warning labels. Before you process any items for latent fingerprints, decide
what methods you will use. Will you use superglue? Will you use fluorescent
powders or dyes and an alternate light source? If processing porous items, which
method will you use and if using more than one chemical, which order you will
use each one. If you have any doubts about the possibility of damaging or
destroying the evidence, obtain samples of material that are the same as the
evidentiary ones and practice on those samples until you are comfortable that
you can perform the necessary processes. Discuss the processing order with the
other labs that will also be examining the evidence. Will what you intend to do
help or hinder their efforts and vice versa.
completion of all processing, photograph each item again, photograph any latent
fingerprints developed with a scale visible in the photo and the photo taken in
a 1:1 ratio. List all items on property receipts, use sequential numbering and
continue the numbering sequence onto each consecutive property record. Package
them according to the policies and procedures of your department or the agency
you will be submitting the evidence to and submit them to the evidence section
for storage. Make sure you get signatures of everyone taking custody of the
evidence to ensure that the chain of custody remains unbroken and cannot be
attacked in court by the defense.
Now it is
time to lay out the format of your report. I use a format that begins with an
opening paragraph, or more, that details the date and time I received
notification of the event, the date and time I began my response and the date
and time I arrived on the scene. Why so much interest about date and time?
Suppose you respond at 2355 hours on November 23rd and arrive at 0100
hours on November 24th? This needs to be explained. Never assume that
the person reading your report “knows what you meant”. You must spell it out
for the reader. I never detail where I was or what I was doing when the call
came in. This has no bearing on the case. I never indicate in my report anything
pertaining to any re-direction orders I may be given. I only address information
directly pertaining to this particular case and nothing else.
I then go
into a brief description of the scene, weather conditions, lighting conditions
and names, including agency, of police officers who are present upon my arrival
and the type and construction of the location. After that I usually give a brief
synopsis of what I was told by the officers at the scene. From there, I begin
listing my actions in an outline format, with a section caption such as
“photographs”. I start with a listing of each photograph taken. All this
information comes from the photo logs I filled out when I took the pictures.
Next, I list all ballistic damage followed by all ballistic evidence if any.
Ballistic evidence includes the weapon(s), projectiles, live ammunition, and
ammunition components. I follow that by listing all serological evidence, which
is basically any body fluid or part including hairs and skin. Finally, a list of
any other evidence not covered by any of the previous categories is added.
Depending upon the nature and seriousness of the case, I have also included in
my narration where and when I recovered each item as well as the measurements
taken to locate it precisely. These notations are included in each items’
entry in my report. I will also sometimes refer to each photograph, by number,
that the particular item of evidence is shown in. For example, Item #1: A sharp kitchen knife, white metal blade with a black plastic
handle. Overall length is 14 inches, handle is 6 inches, and the blade is 8
inches. The inscription “Stainless Steel” is etched on the left side of the
blade at the junction of the blade and handle. This Item was recovered on the
living room floor of the scene, 13 feet 3 inches west of the east wall and 6
feet 2 inches south of the north wall. Refer to photographs 20, 21, 30 and 45.
I determine left and right sides of an object by how it is held in ones hand.
Hold an object in your hand. One side will be on your left and the other on your
evidence numbering is done in a sequential manner and is the same as the
items’ number on the property receipt. This removes any duplication of numbers
and confusion when citing the item, its pedigree and location where it was
recovered. This way there will always be only one item bearing that number in
any of your reports or testimony. Your number can still identify the item and
any other number assigned to it by the laboratory. Laboratories will usually
assign their own unique number to each item regardless of your numbering system.
For example, they may number items Q-1 or K-1 and your item number may be 27 or
56. One advantage to this sequential
numbering system is that it can continue almost indefinitely. Instead of using
double letters or a number with a letter combination, simply continuing in the
numerical sequence is done.
this is accomplished, any final conclusions or determinations can be included as
well as the disposition of the evidence for processing or follow-up evaluation
by other units or agencies. Hypotheses and opinions should not be included in
your report unless you are a recognized expert in that particular area and can
substantiate your status through training, certifications or Court recognition
on prior occasions.
reports should also be done for any future activities involving this case,
including court or deposition appearances and correspondence to or from outside
or internal laboratories and the results of any tests or examinations you
requested or performed.
consistent and thorough approach to all of your scenes and scene documentation
will result in a consistently high degree of accuracy and quality. Your work and
reputation will be more readily accepted and make the prosecution of your cases
that much easier because of the care you took in the case from the very
beginning. Remember, it is your name and reputation, respect it and protect it.
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