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Setting the Standard: Maintaining Professionalism

Tue, 04/10/2012 - 2:25pm
Dick Warrington

In the last issue, we looked at a variety of ways to save money while still doing the job well. With the economy still sputtering, some may end up cutting corners to save a buck. But such actions can be counterproductive and costly in the long run. In this column, we’ll look at some ways to set a high level of professionalism even when you’re watching the bottom line.

1. Plan for a Jury Trial
One of the biggest mistakes CSOs make is entering a crime scene without a plan. Whenever you work a case, always assume that it’ll be going to a jury trial. Imagine that you’re called to a scene and you decide that it’s a suicide. Because you don’t expect a trial, you don’t process the scene in the way you would if you were going to court. But what if new evidence turns up later indicating it was a homicide? By then it’ll be too late. In other instances, you may think you’re working a simple case but your robbery or arson is actually connected to other cases. If you haven’t done a thorough job at your scene, you may not be able to make these connections in court.

While your plan will vary to a certain extent depending on the exact nature of the scene, it will always be driven by the same goal: preparing the best case for trial. With that idea in mind, you know you’ll need to process the scene carefully, collect as much evidence as possible, process that evidence, and document it. Always photograph your evidence before you process it, and remember to include the appropriate scales and markings. Document all footprints and tire tracks. Such evidence can be crucial in both eliminating and identifying suspects. Also document the suspect’s method of entry and exit. This type of evidence can also be important to your case.

While we’re on the topic of documentation, don’t forget that all photos must be turned over to the defense, even if those photos include people clowning around. You can be sure the defense will use these photos to imply that your opinion is that the case is a big joke. Photograph only what’s relevant to the case. The same goes for video—shoot only what’s needed for the case. If possible, shoot video without the audio to eliminate background sounds and other distracting noise.

2. Strive for Consistency
Being consistent can greatly increase your level of professionalism. Establish a system for documenting, marking, and recording evidence, and then use this system every time. For example, when you collect clothing evidence, always mark it in the same place and with the same type of information (your name, the case number, the date, etc.)

Using this kind of system can help you work more effectively and efficiently. Once you master the system, you won’t have to think about it. And when your case does go to court, you’ll be ready. When you’re testifying in front of the jury, you want to be clear and confident. If you haven’t taken the time to develop a good system, you may find yourself fumbling around on the stand trying to find the place where you marked the evidence or, once you finally find the mark, struggling to decipher what you wrote. Don’t let that happen to you.

3. Focus on the Details
Paying attention to details can make all the difference in your case. Be careful to avoid short cuts or inexpensive options that end up costing you. Here are some examples:

When collecting evidence, it’s tempting to grab some grocery bags from your car. Don’t fall into this trap. Always use clean, new bags for evidence, or your evidence will be worthless.

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of using a scale with your photos. Again, it’s tempting to grab whatever’s handy. But your presentation will look a lot more professional if you use a standard ruler marked in inches and centimeters.

You often need to indicate things like a bullet hole or blood spatter at a scene. Many CSOs will simply point to these items, but you can add to the quality of your work by using adhesive markers. (Download free markers at www.csigizmos.com.)

When you collect evidence and bag it, seal the bag with tape and then sign your name across the tape. This will be a visual record that you collected the evidence, and it will also prevent anyone from disturbing the evidence. Plan ahead and order evidence tape with your department’s name on it—no extra charge, but added professionalism.

Before you lift prints, say from a car or other vehicle, draw brackets around the prints with a dry erase marker. Write down the pertinent information next to the print (ID, your initials, date, case number). You can also indicate orientation, which can be crucial to your case. When you lift the print, the dry erase markings will also come on to the backing card.

These days, many departments are facing serious financial challenges. CSOs need to look for ways to save money while still maintaining high professional standards.

Dick Warrington is in research and development and a crime scene consultant and training instructor for the Lynn Peavey Company. dwarrington@peaveycorp.com

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