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Whether you are called to investigate a simple break-in or a multiple homicide, you need to have at your disposal all of the tools and equipment you’ll need to do your job. In order to make the most of your crime scene kit, you need to plan ahead. So before those calls come in, you need to figure out what equipment is essential for you to do your job well. In making that list, you need to take into account your own level of expertise—the best crime scene kit in the world is useless if you don’t know how to use the items in it. In this article, I’ll give you an overview of the basic crime scene equipment that every scene officer should have available for every investigation, and then I’ll point out some items you may want to consider for special situations.
Let me begin by noting that there are numerous crime scene supply companies out there that have put together basic crime scene kits. If you decide to go with this option, you’ll probably need to purchase multiple kits in order to have an adequate amount of supplies. You’ll also need to supplement these kits with other supplies.
Now, let’s take a look at what you need for basic crime scene equipment. First, you need a fingerprint kit. This kit should include different types of powders and brushes to identify prints on different surfaces. For basic prints, you need black powder and a fingerprinting brush. Light color powders provide contrast, so they can be useful when prints appear on dark surfaces. If you do use different color powders, you need a dedicated brush for each color powder to avoid contamination. You also need magnetic powder and a magnetic powder applicator. Magnetic powders are sometimes more effective on rough, grained, or porous surfaces, which could become heavily coated with regular powder. You should also include fluorescent powder and a feather brush. This type of powder is used on multicolored surfaces, like soda and beer cans which can present a contrast problem. Note that you also need an alternate light source or a UV light when you use fluorescent powder. When working with any of the powders, you need disposable dust masks and nitrile or latex gloves. You also need a small hand-held magnifier to view the prints.
Once you have the prints, you need to lift them. For smooth surfaces like glass, you need 2” and 4” lifting tape. For multi-contoured surfaces, such as light bulbs and door knobs, you also need 1½” polyethylene tape.
After you have lifted the prints, you need to store them on backing cards. For black powder, use white backing cards. For light colored and fluorescent powder, use black backing cards. Magnetic powdered lifts are placed on contrasting colored backing cards.
In addition to the fingerprint supplies, you also need equipment specific to DNA collection. This includes sterile swabs, sterile distilled water to moisten the swabs, and swab boxes. The swab box allows the swab with the DNA sample to air dry safely.
You also need supplies for collecting different types of evidence. These include Ziplock bags in assorted sizes; paper bags in assorted sizes; evidence tape to preserve the chain of custody; and permanent markers, ink pens, and pencils to mark the items being collected.
Photography equipment is also very important because you must photograph the scene as a whole and the specific pieces of evidence, like fingerprints, before you do anything else. Since photographs can be so crucial to a case, you should use a good quality digital camera, A-frame photo markers, photo scales, and a tripod.
In addition to photographing the scene, you also have to diagram it. The supplies for this task include 6” scales, L scales, 12” rulers, tape measures, and graphing paper.
Finally, your crime scene kit will include a variety of additional items. These will include basic supplies like scissors, tweezers, a flashlight, and personal protection equipment (gloves, booties, etc.)
The more experience you gain, the more sophisticated your equipment will become. You will customize your kit to fit your skills and your needs. It may grow from the basic kit we’ve discussed here to contain things like equipment for impression evidence and for arson evidence. Remember, you can’t do your job if you don’t have the right equipment. Take the time to plan ahead, and you’ll be ready when you head out to your next scene.
Dick Warrington is in research and development and a crime scene consultant and training instructor for the Lynn Peavey Company. Dick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.