What every cop wants you to know about CSI
It didn’t take long.
The television show, CSI, or “Crime Scene Investigation”, soared in popularity quickly from the start.
Americans love cop shows.
Almost every night of the week you can catch some variation of one. It was only a matter of time before someone would create a niche for the science behind cracking the tougher cases.
Like a force of nature, enter the weekly show CSI that quickly overtook all of its competitors.
I still remember the first time I tried to watch it. I don’t remember anything about the story. My only recollection was that I couldn’t make it to the first commercial. The absolute absurdity of their portrayal of forensics was too much.
Now I’m not here to bash the show. Millions of their rabid fans don’t care if it’s not 100 percent accurate.
This article’s true intention is to educate and make families aware of exactly what should be expected from forensic science. As always, this is not the end all or be all on this topic but it’s a good starting point.
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TV makes forensic crime scene investigations look too easy.
Your typical made for TV cop drama has to solve a crime in an incredibly short amount of time. If it’s an hour long episode, minus the commercials, it ends up being less than 45 minutes.
In reality it takes us that long to even figure out what the heck happened or at least an idea of what happened.
To process a crime scene for forensic evidence takes longer than your average citizen realizes. Especially when you have multiple scenes for one event.
Lets use the example of a burglary.
You come home from a long 8 hour work day. As you pull into the driveway, you notice that your front door is wide open and looks like it has been kicked in.
You immediately suspect those two hoodlums your son has recently befriended. You call the police and demand that the entire house be checked for fingerprints and DNA.
Depending on the size of your house this could take a very LONG time. Lets start with fingerprinting.
To locate, lift and properly transfer a fingerprint onto a fingerprint card is extremely difficult. Most people think we can get fingerprints off of pretty much everything. I once had a victim demand that I get prints off of a pair of socks!
No. No we cannot.
Without getting overly technical, the only surfaces we can get prints from are those that are non-porous, like glass or other hard surfaces. We can’t get them off a shoe, toothbrush, wall, purse, wallet, etc.
Also, approximately 75 percent of the prints that are lifted are of no value.
Let me repeat.
75 PERCENT of the latent prints lifted are of NO VALUE.
Meaning, not enough of the print was recovered to compare it to another print or put in a database.
Oh and fingerprint dust is beyond messy (I really hope you don’t have a white shag carpet).
No facet of forensic science has been so glamorized or as misunderstood as DNA.
Some may argue but DNA was born into our collective consciousness during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. There was an overwhelming amount of DNA evidence presented during that trial. It was still early days for DNA back then in the early 90’s. Because of this, and the horrendous case put on by the prosecution, OJ was able to walk on a double homicide.
Today, that case would have never made it to trial.
O.J. would have plead to both and asked for life instead of the death penalty (that’s if California had a death penalty).
The biggest misconception that people have is that DNA can solve every case. This just isn’t the case (pun intended).
For starters, there has to be enough of the bad guys bodily fluids etc. for extraction that contains DNA for it to be useful.
One example is a lone strand of hair that may belong to your suspect.
This is not enough to extract DNA for a viable sample. The hair strand must contain the root of the hair follicle.
I am not trying to be Bart the Science guy here. Just helping you understand that TV shows can be misleading.
Any criminal investigation that uses forensic science as the sole basis for making a case is fighting an uphill battle.
The most laughable thing that TV shows like “CSI” completely whiff on is time. And the show “Dexter” does the same thing.
Meaning a DNA hit or match doesn’t happen as soon as they return to the office. And they can’t just submit a sample into a computer they keep at the police station.
I won’t get overly technical here but it typically takes months to get results.
And that is only IF there is a sample on file to compare to.
Now don’t get me wrong. If done properly, DNA evidence is the strongest out there. I have NEVER had a defendant challenge a case that had their DNA.
Just remember, DNA is complicated and that it takes time to process.
Crime Scene Technicians
This is probably the one thing that drives cops crazy when when watching these shows. Let me begin by saying I have nothing but the utmost respect for crime scene technicians. They have a thankless job working in the background to help detectives solve cases. They are relied upon heavily when no other evidence is available to solve a case.
The keyword is background.
Shows like “CSI” portray crime scene technicians with the same authority and job duties as police detectives.
Crime scene techs do not push the case detective to the side and tell them they are taking over the investigation. Or interrogate suspects.
It just doesn’t happen.
Now there may be one or two police departments that work on the cheap who combine the two. Those are an anomaly.
Are there any other TV shows that you are unable to watch? I would love to hear your comments. Please, no disdain or contrary opinions about the show “House”. I want to keep living in a world where there will always be a team of exceptional doctors trying to keep me alive!
Some of you have reached out and want to share your story with others. A blog like this one is a great way to reach those who could benefit from your experience and interests. Blogging has changed my perspective and my life.
It could do the same for you.
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