As I travel around the country to lecture and teach at conferences and seminars, I always hear the same comment from crime scene investigators: the “CSI Effect” has profoundly affected the way they perform their job. Juries everywhere expect a high level of professionalism. We have to step up to the plate and perform to the best of our abilities. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, that means staying up-to-date with the latest knowledge and technology available, and knowing how and when to call upon outside experts to supplement our own skills. But even as we continue to use DNA testing and other sophisticated technologies, we also need to take advantage of some of the low-tech products out there that can enhance the quality of our work. In this article, I’ll discuss three simple products that can increase your professionalism and are available to you at little or no cost.
The first two products are types of evidence markers. Depending on the evidence you find, you need different types of evidence markers. Say, for example, that you have a crime scene that includes a bullet hole or holes, blood spatter, or other specific items or areas that you want to note in your documentation. You could photograph someone using their finger to point to these items, but it would certainly be more professional to use an arrow or pointer. Also, if you use arrows, you can place several—either numbered or plain—to indicate each bullet hole or other item of interest. You can download a free set of arrows by going to my web page and following the instructions: http://www.csigizmos.com/products/evidencemarkers/arrows.html. The arrows are already formatted to print on Avery address labels; if you use removable labels, you can reuse the arrows.
Another type of evidence marker that you need for your crime scenes is photo evidence numbers to indicate the location of each piece of evidence. These are typically large, plastic markers that must be properly decontaminated if there is blood at the scene, and then they must be stored between cases. Because of the large, rigid “A” shape, they are often unsuitable for use in a confined area or an area with several small items of evidence that need to be photographed. Often, a better solution is to create your own small, medium, and large disposable “A” frame markers. Then, when they become contaminated, you simply dispose of them. If you look under “Evidence Markers” on my website, you’ll find instructions and templates that will allow you to create disposable “A” frame markers with and without a scale: http://www.csigizmos.com/products/evidencemarkers.html. All you need to supply is your computer and heavy paper or card stock.
As we’ve just seen with the “A” frame markers, sometimes a product exists, but we need to create a modified version to fit specific situations or evidence. This is also true with measuring devices. Let’s take a case where you find latent prints on the exterior of a vehicle. To document the prints, you can try to hold the standard measuring device next to the prints and take the photograph, or you can have someone else hold the device for you. A better option would be to create a magnetic ruler. Once you have this device, you can place it on the surface of the vehicle and take your photos. To make the magnetic rulers, first purchase an adhesive surface magnetic sheet of 5" x 8" (about $1.99 at most discount or craft centers). Next, get a set of four rulers: one white 6" rule, one black 6" rule, one gray 6" rule, and one ABFO #2 scale. Peel off the adhesive cover from the magnetic sheet and place your rulers and scale on the adhesive side. Rub them down to make a good bond. Cut the rulers and scale out with either a pair of scissors or an Exacto knife. You now have a set of magnetic rulers. Remember that some vehicles are not made of metal, so these rulers will not work on them. You will need to use an adhesive ruler instead.
As busy professionals, it’s easy to fall back on whatever is convenient when we’re trying to process a crime scene. Instead, make the small investment in time and money to create these products. They will increase your professionalism and make a positive impact on the jury, where it counts.
Dick Warrington is in research and development and a crime scene consultant and training instructor for the Lynn Peavey Company. For the past several years, Dick has been teaching classes throughout the U.S. and Canada, trying to dispel some of those “you can’t do that” myths. Dick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org