- Crime Lab
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As a Crime Scene Officer, you have many responsibilities. In order to do your job well, you need to stay current with advances in the field. The best way to accomplish that goal is to invest in your ongoing training. In this issue I’ll take a closer look at why this training is so important, and I’ll also give you some suggestions for finding the right training to fit your needs.
When a CSO is called to a crime scene, that officer can be expected to evaluate the scene, process and collect evidence, document the scene with photography, and write a detailed report. For a major crime, the CSO can call in experts from the state police, state crime lab, or even the FBI. But for more typical cases, such as aggravated assaults, rapes, burglaries, and thefts, the CSO won’t have that kind of help. CSOs need to rely on their own knowledge and training to identify and collect evidence to help the prosecutor build a case. All too often, though, CSOs don’t have the necessary training or skills. When that’s the situation, the CSO is likely to settle for doing the bare minimum—taking notes, photographing the scene, and writing up a report. But when you do that, you haven’t done anything to solve the case.
Training is especially important because it provides a broader perspective. In many departments, one person becomes the “crime scene guru” and then passes his knowledge on to the rest of the department. That fine—as far as it goes. But if he doesn’t attend conferences and classes, he doesn’t gain new knowledge to share. The knowledge remains insular and limits the department.
So the most obvious reason to continue your training is to stay current. Our field is constantly changing. If you don’t take the time to keep up with your training, you won’t be up-to-date with the latest technology and advances. If you don’t know what’s happening, you won’t be able to take advantage of new tools and techniques. When you attend conferences and workshops, you learn what’s possible. For instance, you learn how to identify evidence and what can be done with it. You also learn the best ways to collect that evidence. All of these things are crucial to building a case that will hold up in court.
Even when you’re aware of the latest advances, going to training sessions is important because they help you learn new techniques and improve your skills. When you attend a workshop or seminar, you not only benefit from your instructor’s expertise, but you also learn from your fellow officers. For instance, when I teach a class, I demonstrate how I would do something like lift a print from a feather. But you’d be surprised at how many times I also get new ideas from the officers taking my classes. For example, while doing a class several years ago showing officers how to lift latent fingerprints off a textured surface, a student held up a paper towel and said, “How about this?” I had him put a print on the paper towel and develop a latent print. Then using Diff Lift tape, I lifted it off. That technique is now part of my class.
While many of you may be convinced of the importance of training, you may have other obstacles in your way. Small departments may not have enough manpower to cover the department if they send an officer to training. Many departments, regardless of size, may not have money in the budget for training, let alone travel. These are legitimate concerns, but they shouldn’t prevent you from getting the training you need.
You have lots of options for training. As we’ll see, there are many conferences, seminars, workshops and classes offered throughout the country that are extremely valuable and well worth your time and money. But if you can’t go to one of these classes or programs, you have other choices. Check with your local associations and labs to see if they offer appropriate training. Consider bringing in an expert to conduct a class. If you host a class and open the session up to officers throughout your area, you’ll save yourself time and money and make it worthwhile for everyone involved. I recently ran an in-service session for 149 attendees from 65 agencies. A similar kind of class may be a good solution for you and the officers in your area. If none of these options works, look online. You can find lots of good information and resources, including online classes for some of the basics. Take a look at my Web site for video demonstrations, useful links, and lots of other information for CSOs (www.csigizmos.com).
If would like to attend an outside conference or training session, you have plenty of choices. The International Association for Identification (IAI) is a great place to start your search. They offer conferences and also list training opportunities on their Web site (www.theiai.org). The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) www.aafs.org also offers conferences and workshops. (Check their Web site under the “Meetings” tab and “Other” for more information www.aafs.org/other#OTHER_COURSES). The American Academy of Applied Forensics (www.cpcc.edu/aaaf) offers both basic and advanced forensics training on site in Huntersville, NC. They also offer introductory level courses online. Again, check online for classes and training that meet your needs.
No matter where you are in your career, you can always learn something new, and you can always benefit from updating your skills. There will always be excuses to keep you from getting the training you need. But remember that there’s also a cost when you don’t have the knowledge to do your job correctly. Don’t fall into that trap. Invest in your training, and make a commitment to keeping the criminals from walking the streets.
Dick Warrington is in research and development and a crime scene consultant and training instructor for the Lynn Peavey Company. firstname.lastname@example.org