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Imagine a call comes in at 2:00 in the morning for a minor case that will likely have only one or two items that need processing. For many departments, the only option would be to get the crime scene officer out of bed to handle the case. But some departments have come up with another option: evidence response technicians. In this article, I’ll show you how these specially trained officers can benefit any department.
Most departments have one or two crime scene officers (CSOs) available. Their expertise is crucial, but in most cases, one or two CSOs are not enough to cover the whole territory the department is responsible for. Also, for some major cases, the CSO needs additional help processing the scene. Many departments are looking to evidence response technicians (ERTs) to solve the problem.
ERTs are patrolmen and other officers who are already part of the department and who are already out in the field. Often, when the first responders get to a scene, they can see evidence, but they don’t have the equipment or the training to process and gather that evidence. To solve this problem, CSOs train field officers to process a small crime scene. Ideally, you want to train enough officers so that there will be a couple of ERTs available per shift. Having these officers trained and in the field will save you time—you can probably save at least an hour if you have an ERT who can process a small crime scene instead of having to wait for the CSO to get the call to come out. Trained ERTs can also save you money you’d be paying in overtime. By planning ahead and being proactive, you can be more efficient and get better results.
The training for ERTs includes what to look for at a scene, in other words, where to find evidence that can be processed. The training also includes instruction in how to process fingerprints and how to swab for DNA, and the specifics of packaging evidence to preserve it properly. With this knowledge, an ERT can handle small scenes so CSOs are freed up for major scenes. And when CSOs need extra help at a major scene, they can call in the ERTs instead of having to go out of the department.
Once ERTs have the knowledge to handle a scene, they also need a small, basic kit to bring to the field. The kit should include basics such as gloves and masks. For fingerprinting, the kit should include a couple of different brushes and powders in different colors, such as grey, white, and black; lifting tape or flap lifters; diff-lift tape or gel lifters for textured surfaces such as a car’s dashboard; and a roll of polyethylene tape for multicontoured surfaces such as the corner of a car’s front fender or a door knob. The kit should also have swabs for DNA samples. Finally, the kit should include basic evidence packaging materials in paper and plastic, and containers for liquids.
Even though there are clear benefits to having field officers trained as ERTs, some officers may be reluctant to start getting involved with fingerprinting. After all, they start their day in a fresh uniform; who wants to get dirty processing fingerprints? But, the truth is, you can process fingerprints without making a mess. If you look on my website, I show you how to fingerprint properly so you won’t get dirty—and we can take that excuse right off the table! Go to www.csigizmos.com for fiber brush application and demo videos.
By training field officers in basic crime scene processing techniques, departments gain more people to handle both small cases and major cases. As always, knowledge is key, and you have to know your limits. An ERT has to know when he can handle a scene and when he needs to call in someone with more expertise. But with the proper use of ERTs, departments run more efficiently and effectively. In the past, prosecutors have lost cases because departments simply haven’t had the resources to process small crime scenes. It might not seem that significant, but in many cases, processing a small scene leads to evidence that can be connected to a suspect from other cases. And that is a big deal.
Dick Warrington is in research and development and a crime scene consultant and training instructor for the Lynn Peavey Company.