evidence

FW: “Where are the Evidence Collection kits made?”

NOTE: This was updated in August, 2019 to reflect new information.  🙂

Part 2 – information about Evidence Collection Training Classes held at SIRCHIE.

Click here for Part 1 – PW: “Have you been fingerprinted?”

 

 

During the first two days of Evidence Collection Training, we used a number of chemicals, fingerprint powders, and brushes, and employed several different fingerprint lifting techniques on a variety of tricky surfaces. We discussed the benefits of both cheap and costly Alternate Light Sources.

 

Our notebooks were filling up and theories of the perfect crime were flying around the class. We kept quizzing Robert Skiff, our instructor, (Sirchie Training Manager/Technical Training Specialist) about ways to ‘get away with the murder of the decade.’ But, as we learned, there is no perfect crime. That pesky trace evidence will always be waiting at every scene for the investigator to discover it, photograph it, tag it, bag it, and transport it without losing the integrity of the sample.

 

It was time to visit the plant – see how the powders, brushes, and other crime scene paraphernalia were made.

 

Sirchie manufactures most of its products in-house. The specialized vehicles for SWAT, bomb rescue, arson investigation, and surveillance work, etc., will now be built in North Carolina, along with the smaller products.

 

Security was carefully controlled throughout our tour. Most of our group writes crime fiction, so we are always looking for a way our fictional criminals can break in (or out of) a wild assortment of locations. As we walked through the stacks and aisles of products, we commented to each other on the smooth organization and many checks Sirchie had in place. Cameras everywhere. Limited access to the assembly floor. Labyrinths a person could easily get turned around in. If we got separated from the group while taking an extra photo or two, we were found and escorted back by an always friendly employee.

 

Of course, we couldn’t turn into rogue students anyway. Our fingerprints littered the classroom and they knew where we lived.

 

Security plays a part in the assembly model as well. Each product they create is put together from start to finish by hand. There are no assembly lines because of trade secrets and a dedication to preserving product integrity. Personnel are carefully screened before being hired and qualification for employment includes graduate degrees. No criminal history whatsoever is allowed. Every employee comes through the Evidence Collection Training Class so that they understand what Sirchie does as a whole.

 

Tool and Die Machines

 

 

Templates for the various products are created in-house. The operators of these machines are highly trained experts. Quality control is paramount, so training is constant.

 

 

 

 

                  

 

All the printing is done in-house. The printing area was stacked with cases of items being packaged for shipment. We saw strips large enough to process tire treads.

 

 

Field Kits are created for general use by investigators, but can be specifically designed for a special need. The small vials contain enough chemicals to test unknown stains and substances at the scene. Note the dense foam holding the vials and bottles firmly in place. The kits are usually kept in the trunk and probably get tossed around quite a bit. The foam insures against breakage during car chases and while bumping across uneven road surfaces.

 

There are fiberglass brushes, feather dusters for the very light powder, regular stiffer brushes, and magnetic powder brush applicators.

 

 

We were lucky enough to see fiberglass brushes being made.

 

 

If a handgun is seized for evidence, there needs to be a simple, yet effective way to track chain of possession.

*Bag the gun to preserve the fingerprints and

*drop the gun in the box.

*Then fill in the blanks on the box.

*Easy to stack and store until needed.

Think of all the cases that may be ongoing in a large jurisdiction – the evidence is not sitting at the police station. It’s in a warehouse someplace, and needs to be easily identified when required for court. In addition to several sized boxes for guns and knives, etc. Sirchie also provides an incredible assortment of resealable plastic bags for preserving evidence like clothing, unidentified fibers, etc.

 

 

Magnetic powder was being processed that day and then put into rows and rows of jars and jugs. Before it is sent out to the customers, each lot is tested for moisture content, appropriate ratio of ingredients and other trade secret tests. We joked about taking some back to class for the next round of fingerprint study and were surprised by how heavy the jugs were.

 

No, she’s not making bullets. She is assembling the cyanowand cartridges used for fuming with superglue.

 

SIRCHIE makes riot gear.

 

This is not a photo of something from a SyFy movie. At the center of the shot is a helmet template. The drills encircling the template are aimed at spots where holes are needed for each helmet, depending on the type of helmet in production. All the holes are drilled at the same time.

Helmet before anything has been added to it.
Helmet with padding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buckles for the helmets.
Padding is inserted after the buckles are attached.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmet component

 

 

Helmet component for neck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmet face guards.

 

 

 

Completed riot helmet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Optical Comparator, as well as the other machines, is built to order by hand.

 

While in the warehouse, we learned that if a product is discontinued, it is still supported by Sirchie. That means that if a law enforcement officer calls up with a problem a few years after purchasing a machine, he can still get help. Reassuring for jurisdictions with a tight budget that can’t afford to replace expensive equipment every year or two.

 

Sirchie sends supplies to TV shows, so next time you’re watching a fave detective or examiner lift prints with a hinge lifter, it may have come from Sirchie.

 

Thanks to Lee Lofland, host of Writers’ Police Academy, for the opportunity!

 

 

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips at the Sirchie Education and Training Center in Youngsville, North Carolina.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 82 “Is that your footprint?”

 

 

 

 

It’s been raining off and on for days. It rained last week during a party, and people were tracking water and a little mud from the driveway runoff onto the porch all afternoon. We had so many different kinds of footprints that it would have made for a great crime scene demonstration.

 

Because, one of the most overlooked pieces of evidence at a crime scene is created by footwear.

 

Imagine: If a window breaks as a thief enters the premises during the commission of a burglary, the glass will fall into the house, and onto the floor or rug below the window. When the thief steps through the window, unless the thief has wings, he/she will probably plant a foot right in the middle of the glass. And walk through the house, most likely tracking minute pieces of that glass. That glass may also become embedded in the grooves of the sole of the shoe, creating a distinctive footprint.

 

If the investigating officer can place a suspect at the scene with the footprint, then there is probable cause to fingerprint that suspect and hopefully establish a link to the crime.

 

A new method of eliminating suspects right at the scene involves stepping into a tray that contains a pad soaked with harmless clear ink that doesn’t stain, then stepping onto a chemically treated impression card. No messy cleanup, immediate results, and it can even show details of wear and tear on the shoe. This can be a way to establish a known standard (we know where this impression came from) to compare with multiple tread prints at the scene.

Footwear Clear Ink Impression

 

 

Another tool for creating a known standard is the foam impression system. It takes a bit longer, (24 hours) but clear, crisp impressions can be made, including of the pebbles and bits stuck deep into the grooves and the writing on the arch. Very helpful when trying to place suspects at the scene. A rock stuck in the sole is a random characteristic that can’t be duplicated, so becomes another point of identification.

 

This is how it works: Somebody steps into a box of stiff-ish foam – a bit like stepping into wet sand.

 

An impression is made instantaneously. The detail is great – down to the wear on the heel.

Pre-mixed dental stone (made with distilled water and the powder) is used to fill the impression.

It takes 24 hours for the cast to become firm enough to pop out of the foam. We now have a permanent record of the footwear tread, which could be used for comparison to other prints found at the scene.

Footwear Casts

 

Occasionally footprints are found on the ground outside a window or in the gardens surrounding a house after a burglary or homicide. Ever see a crime show on TV where the fictional investigator makes a snap judgment about the height and weight of the owner of the footprint because of the depth of the impression? That’s merely a plot device and is not scientific evidence in real life. A crime scene photographer or investigator can photograph the footprint (next to a measurement scale), make a take away cast, and then compare the impression with those of the suspects or other bystanders at the scene. Beware: making a cast of the print destroys the print, so a photograph must be taken before pouring that first drop of dental stone.

 

Footprints can be found at bloody crime scenes as well. The suspect walks through the blood, tracks it through the house, cleans it up, but the prints are still there, even though not obvious to the naked eye. Blood just doesn’t go away, no matter how hard you try to get rid of it. It seeps into the cracks and crevices of a floor and even behind baseboards.

 

A savvy investigator will collect sections of carpet (or flooring) taken from where the suspect might have walked during the commission of the crime, then conduct a presumptive test for blood (LCV – Aqueous Leuco Crystal Violet), find a usable footprint, compare it to a known standard, and then be able to place the suspect at the scene.

 

 

 

 

Be careful where you walk. That footprint can be used as evidence.

 

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips

 

 

 

 

KN, p. 141 “What does a CSI tech really do?”

 

TV makes the job of a CSI tech look like a lot of fun.

 

It looks like an easy job, too. Get a call from dispatch, arrive at a crime scene, pop on the gloves, shine a flashlight around, take a few photos, collect the evidence along with your team of 4-5 colleagues and go back to the lab an hour or so later, ready to process all of it.

 

Have the real CSI techs and law enforcement professionals stopped laughing yet?  😉

Here’s the reality:

 

Most small towns (under 50,000 people) have no CSI lab. None. The local police in smaller towns are able to collect fingerprints, but most have to send them off to a State Lab to be processed.

 

Many towns, even with a population of 100,000 people, don’t have a ballistics lab to check the caliber of any bullets/casings left behind at the scene or found in the victim’s body.

 

North Carolina (as of 2019) had a population of 10.48 million, and has three State crime labs – one full service and two regional labs.

 

New York State (as of 2019) had a population of 19.45 million, and has four State crime labs – one full service and three specializing in varied areas.

 

New Jersey (as of 2019) had a population of 8.88 million.  It has five State labs.

 

Texas (as of 2019) had a population of 28.99 million, with a full service forensic lab in Austin and 14 regional labs, some conducting only drug testing, and others close to full service.

 

And all of those crime labs are processing evidence from all kinds of crimes (burglary, robbery, rape, arson, cold case, assault, etc.) not just murders. It take a few hours to get the prints, preserve the evidence, bag and tag it for transport, but it takes months to get it processed, because there is a long line of cases ahead of yours. In some States, the wait is as long as 18 months. That is not a typo, folks. Eighteen months to wait until the evidence can be processed. Even if the case is a high profile one, moving to the head of the line might only shorten the wait to 2-3 months, because there are other high profile cases in line as well or cases that are already in court, waiting for clarification of the evidence.

 

There is no such thing as instantaneous fingerprint matches. See the article about fingerprint analysis here. There are now handheld machines that scan a viable fingerprint at the scene, but that only speeds up the collection process, not the identification of the fingerprint. (I was recently told that a new fingerprint reader can return an answer in 45 seconds, but some fingerprint experts are reserving judgment as to the accuracy of the matches.)

 

Get the picture? The State Bureaus of Investigation are short-staffed and the cases more numerous, as attorneys seek to prove or disprove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the evidence gathered at the scene linked their clients to the crime.

 

In general, the analysts examine all types of evidence related to criminal investigations and assist the criminal justice system. They can provide:

 

  • Consultation on the value, use, collection, and preservation of evidence,
  • Analysis and comparison of evidence from crime scenes and/or people,
  • Expert testimony in court proceedings, and
  • Assistance for collecting evidence and processing crime scenes,
  • Forensic science information to law enforcement agencies and district attorneys.

 

ALL of that evidence must be collected in a thorough and efficient manner by the Crime Scene Technician or Crime Scene Investigator. Cases are won and lost on how the evidence is handled – both the chain of custody and the collecting of the correct evidence can be factors in how a suspect is perceived.

 

I had a chance to chat with a CSI who has been in the field for about 10 years. She generously shared information about her day – soooo different from the image of the CSI jobs projected on TV.

 

She enters a crime scene after a Patrol Officer has cleared the house (made sure that no unauthorized person is in it). A Deputy might walk her through the house, and depending on the crime, the owner of the house then walks her through, pointing out items that might have been disturbed or areas where items are missing. She takes notes during the tours so that she can come up with a Plan of Action – how to process the scene.

 

In general, she will take photos first, and then collect the evidence. If a homicide is suspected, she might take video as well as still photographs.

 

She might see patterns of wreckage, or concentration of destruction, or even similarities with other cases, but it is not her job to focus on the M.O. (modus operandi) or narrow her collection efforts based on a hunch. She is there to collect all the evidence.

 

She might be looking for:

 

  • Fingerprints
  • Blood spatters
  • Fibers
  • Footwear impressions
  • Tire impressions
  • Tool impressions
  • DNA samples (hair, nails, blood, saliva, etc)
  • Murder weapon
  • Point of entry
  • Kinds of items taken

What a CSI leaves at the scene is sometimes as important as what he/she collects, so it is vital to be thorough. The detectives and attorneys decide what is significant to the case.

 

The trunk of a CSIs car is filled with the tools of the trade. They have kits for each type of evidence collection and if they know in general what the scene will call for, they may grab an additional kit from headquarters. They might even carry a tarp to cover the ground (creating a collection place for the evidence) if the scene is outdoors – such as a train wreck.

 

The CSI I interviewed works in Major Crimes for the Sheriff’s Department, and when she is called to a scene, she works 12-hour shifts, by herself. In most cases, she collects all the evidence, bags and tags it appropriately, and hands it all to the detective in charge. She works 14 days a month, equally divided between the day shift and the night shift.  On occasion, a 12-hour shift is not long enough to collect everything at a particular crime scene, so she stays a bit longer to finish. If it looks as if she has to work for another shift, a Patrol Officer will guard the scene until she returns to finish collection on her next shift. If the case merits 24-hour collection (because of weather or the condition of the scene/body) the CSI on the next shift will continue the collection, with any evidence collected up to that point handed over to the new person.

Clear chain of possession of the evidence dictates that in a case where collection goes on for more than one shift, limited people will have keys to the building. There are evidence cards showing who collected it, and anyone entering or leaving the scene will have to sign in and out with the Patrol Officer on duty.

 

For information about Footwear Evidence, click here.

 

Next week: The life of a CSI – rewards and challenges.

 

 

*Photos taken by Patti Phillips

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