By doing your research and planning accordingly, you’ll stretch your CSI budget without sacrificing quality.With today’s challenging economy, we all need to figure out the most cost effective ways to do our jobs. The good news is that we actually have plenty of excellent, affordable options available. In some cases, these options may require extra time and effort on your part. But by doing your research and planning accordingly, you’ll stretch your department’s dollars without sacrificing quality. In this issue, I’ll provide an overview of some key areas where you can save money.

Light Sources
Having the right light sources can make all the difference when you’re investigating crime scenes. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on just one light. But you don’t have to. These days, portable light sources are much improved. In some cases, they’re even brighter than what you would find in the lab. With prices ranging from around $35 for the Micro Blue light, up to a high of about $1,500 for an ultra light, you can afford the right combination of lights for your department.

Crime Scene Kits
Every CSI needs a good crime scene kit. And there are plenty of companies out there selling pre-packaged kits. But why pay extra for a kit dictated by these companies? Take the time to build your own kit. Yes, it will involve more effort on your part, but you’ll save a lot of money and end up with only the things you really need. Let’s look at some specifics:

Blood Testing
As you build your kit, think about what things you should do and what things you can leave for the lab. For example, you should always determine whether a stain is blood or simply spilled paint or ketchup. But why not let the lab determine if the blood is human or animal? By leaving that question for the lab, you can simplify what you need in your kit. Instead of spending more for premixed chemicals that have a short shelf life, you can go with less expensive ampules that will stay fresh until you need them. These ampules will quickly show you if you have blood that you need to collect.

Fingerprinting Powders and Brushes
Some of the most essential tools in your kit are your fingerprinting powders and brushes. These days, there are a multitude of colors out there. But just because they exist doesn’t mean you have to have every one of them. All you need is one color that will work on dark surfaces and one color that will work on light, and a fluorescent. Once you decide on the kinds of powders you need, instead of buying individual jars, buy one large container and fill containers for each officer as needed.

When it comes to brushes, you could easily spend a fortune. Think about your needs and what you’ll be doing. You’ll need one brush for fluorescent powders and one for standard powders. If you use magnetic powders, you’ll need a brush for them. Disposable brushes are usually your best option. A standard fingerprint brush costs about $9, while a disposable brush packaged for single use is about $4-$5. But as I mentioned in previous articles, when you’re dealing with a major crime and working with smudges that might contain DNA, you have to replace your brushes. Better to have the less expensive disposable brushes when you may be replacing them frequently.

Casting Materials
While there are some new materials on the market, the only material you really need for casting is dental stone. Again, plan ahead to save yourself some money. Buy a 25 pound bag and then divide it up into separate plastic bags. When you need it, you’ll just have to add water.

Evidence Packaging
Here is another area where you can find ways to save. Use clean, standard plastic bags and craft paper bags. If you use a lot of bags, purchase them in lots of 500, which will save you money. Using plain paper bags will save you money; labels to put on the bag are cheap. Just remember that you should never use grocery store bags that have already been used. If you do, you risk contaminating your evidence with whatever was left in the bag. Nothing you save by re-using a bag will be worth having your case fall apart because of sloppy work.

Evidence Markers
Evidence markers are essential for your work, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on them. As I’ve mentioned before, evidence markers often become contaminated at scenes. If you’re not going to be able to clean them properly, you need disposable markers. You can save money by making your own. You can find free evidence marker templates on my Web site (

These are just some of the places where you can save money. Each one may seem like a little thing, but taken together, they can add up to a significant savings.

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