As a crime scene officer, your first task is to secure and protect the scene. But when you’re faced with adverse weather conditions, barrier tape alone won’t be enough. For those cases, you have to think outside the box to find ways to save as much evidence as possible. Remember, if you don’t do your job well, you might lose valuable evidence. A case weakened by lost evidence will fall back on your shoulders. Don’t let that happen to you. In this issue, I’ll look at some strategies you can use for dealing with adverse conditions.
First, being prepared involves more than making sure that you have your standard equipment in your crime scene vehicle before you head to a scene. Before a problem even arises, you should form and maintain contacts with local agencies, community groups, and other vendors that you can rely on for help. These groups appreciate the contact and value the opportunity to aid their community. You may never need some of their services, but if you do, they’ll be there to assist you.
One important reason to call on the community or other agencies is to supply extra manpower. Since the terrain dictates the number of people you need, you may encounter crime scenes that require more people than you have available. For instance, if you are processing a dense area packed with brush and other encumbrances, you’ll need a lot of people working close together. Or, if you’re searching a large field for a bullet or a weapon, you can bring in a local metal detector group to help. If you don’t have enough people to gather evidence and process the scene right the first time, you’ll have to search the same area again. You don’t have time to waste needlessly. Don’t be so proud that you don’t ask local agencies for help.
In other cases, your most pressing problem will be obtaining the proper equipment. For example, if a meth lab explodes, a quick response is critical for rescuing any survivors and searching for evidence. If you’ve established and maintained a good relationship with a local construction company, they can immediately supply you with the backhoe and other heavy equipment you’ll need to get through the rubble so you can perform your job.
One of the most common problems that you’re likely to encounter is bad weather. For instance, you might be investigating a homicide at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning when your dispatcher tells you that a heavy rainstorm will hit your area within an hour. Fingerprint and DNA evidence can be lost in the rain, so you must act quickly to get the environment covered. If you don’t have your own tent and you’ve made prior arrangements with a rental company, you can call them to set up a tent to cover your scene. If you don’t have this kind of an arrangement in place, you’ll have to grab evidence as best you can and move it inside. In the process, some evidence could be lost or ruined.
After you’ve taken the crucial step of covering your environment, you then have to consider the best method to process your evidence. Fragile evidence such as shoe tracks, tire tracks, hairs, and fibers can be lost if not properly protected.