Whether you’re just starting as a CSO (Crime Scene Officer) or you’re a seasoned veteran, chances are you’ve found yourself in a classroom, seminar, or workshop dedicated to the ever-changing technology that affects our field. As I’ve mentioned before, being aware of the latest technology and the newest advances can certainly be important to performing your job well. After all, if you don’t know what’s available or even possible, you may get to a crime scene and miss important evidence. On the other hand, you don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that you can’t do your job properly unless your department purchases every piece of high-end equipment out there, and unless you become an expert in every specialized technique and procedure. Instead use your knowledge, and the tools you have, to your advantage. And when necessary, call in the experts.
One of the biggest mistakes I see these days is that CSOs get so focused on the latest and greatest technology that they forget about the basics. Don’t make that mistake. No matter what kind of scene you’re called to, your job is to protect, process, and document the scene. In order to perform those tasks properly, you need to make sure you’re prepared before you get the call. That means thinking ahead so that your crime scene vehicle is stocked with the essentials.
Begin by envisioning the scene and the tasks you’ll need to perform. Think about entering the scene. How are you going to be dressed? Depending on the type of scene, you’ll need booties, gloves, a mask, and a Tyvek suit to protect yourself and the scene. Processing and documenting the scene is a major part of your responsibility. A good crime scene kit is a must. Such a kit should contain a good quality flashlight; an evidence collection kit; paper and plastic evidence collection bags; tweezers; swabs; sterile distilled water; fingerprint equipment; tape for lifting fingerprints from smooth, flat, textured, and multi-contoured surfaces; tool impression materials, such as Mikrosil; casting material; and camera equipment, including a camera and/or lens capable of closeup photography and scales to use with photos. You’ll also want some lights and portable tents to protect your scene.
Now, many officers will assume that they need to purchase top-of-the-line equipment and then keep upgrading as technology changes. But the reality is that most departments don’t have the luxury of an unlimited budget, so you need to use your resources wisely.