How Crime Scene Investigation Works

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On TV shows like “CSI,” viewers get to watch as investigators find and collect evidence at the scene of a crime, making blood appear as if by magic and swabbing every mouth in the vicinity­. Many of us believe we have a pretty good grip on the process, and rumor has it criminals are getting a jump on the good guys using tips they pick up from these shows about forensics.

But does Hollywood get it right? Do crime scene investigators follow their DNA samples into the lab? Do they interview suspects and catch the bad guys, or is their job all about collecting physical evidence? In this article, we’ll examine what really goes on when a CSI “processes a crime scene” and get a real-world view of crime scene investigation from a primary scene responder with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

CSI Basics

Crime scene investigation is the meeting point of science, logic and law. “Processing a crime scene” is a long, tedious process that involves purposeful documentation of the conditions at the scene and the collection of any physical evidence that coul­d possibly illuminate what happened and point to who did it. There is no typical crime scene, there is no typical body of evidence and there is no typical investigative approach.

At any given crime scene, a CSI might collect dried blood from a windowpane — without letting his arm brush the glass in case there are any latent fingerprints there, lift hair off a victim’s jacket using tweezers so he doesn’t disturb the fabric enough to shake off any of the white powder (which may or may not be cocaine) in the folds of the sleeve, and use a sledge hammer to break through a wall that seems to be the point of origin for a terrible smell.

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