Have you ever been called to a crime scene expecting something simple, or straightforward, only to have it turn into something much more complicated? Maybe you get a call for what looks like a simple break-in, so you dust for prints, but you don’t have the right equipment to look for DNA evidence. But what happens if the isolated break-in is actually part of a series of crimes? If you don’t process every scene thoroughly and properly, you could blow a case. The key, then, is being ready for anything.

Always assume any case you get will go to court. A good crime scene kit will help you be prepared. To make the most of your crime scene kit, you need to plan ahead. In organizing your kit, take into account your own level of expertise — the best crime scene kit in the world is useless, if you don’t know how to use the items inside.

Crime Scene Kit 101
In this article, I will give you an overview of the basic crime scene equipment that every scene officer should have available for every investigation, and then I’ll point out some items you may want to consider for special situations.

First, note that you can purchase a basic crime scene kit from a variety of crime scene supply companies. This may not be the best option, though. You’ll probably have to purchase multiple kits in order to have an adequate amount of supplies. You may also have to supplement these prepackaged kits with other items to fit your needs. Creating your own kit makes it easier to get what you want, and may be more cost-effective.

The Fingerprint Kit
The first thing you need in your crime scene kit is a fingerprint kit, which should include different types of fingerprint powders and brushes to identify prints on different surfaces. For basic prints, you need black powder and a fiberglass fingerprinting brush. Light color powders (silver or white) provide contrast, so they can be useful for prints on dark surfaces. If you use different color powders, you need a dedicated brush for each one to avoid contamination. You also need magnetic powders (black and silver or white) and a magnetic wand applicator, since magnetic powders are sometimes more effective than regular powders on rough, grained, or porous surfaces.

Also include an orange fluorescent powder and a feather brush for use on multicolored surfaces, like soda and beer cans, which can present a contrast problem. Note that you need an alternate light source or a UV light when using fluorescent powder. You can purchase an inexpensive portable light source and leave it in your vehicle. You also need disposable dust masks, and nitrile or latex gloves when working with any of these powders, and a small hand-held magnifier to view the prints. 

Once you have the prints, you need tape to lift them. For smooth, non-porous surfaces use 2” and 4” (clear or frosted) lifting tape. Include 2” polyethylene tape for multicontoured surfaces, such as light bulbs and door knobs, and 1 1/2” Diff-Lift tape for textured surfaces. After you lift prints, you need to store them on backing cards (4” x 5” and 5 1/2” x 8 1/2”). For black powder, use white backing cards. For light colored and fluorescent powder, use black backing cards. Place magnetic powdered lifts on contrasting colored backing cards.

Designing Your Perfect Kit
As you gain more experience as a CSO, you can customize your kit to fit your skills and your needs. Your kit may grow from the basic one we have discussed here to contain things like equipment for impression and arson evidence. Remember, you can do a lot at crime scenes, but you need the right equipment. If you take the time to plan ahead, you will be ready for that next call.

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