How to Conduct a Basic Crime Scene Investigation

Reference & EducationEducation

  • Author Dr. Anthony T. Craft
  • Published November 18, 2022
  • Word count 2,625

This article is aimed to assist you in obtaining the most appreciative and rewarding information that discusses the Basic Crime Scene Investigator and Basic Criminal Investigations. By actually understanding the research that my team and I have done in preparation for this E-book, our aim is to help you further understand the procedures, protocols, and practices needed to conduct a successful Basic Crime Scene Investigation.

Throughout my early career in the profession of Law Enforcement, I’ve always been curious, just like any other red-blooded American, to know how a murder suspect is identified, and ultimately, the arrest of the suspect is made. This holds true for the many newly hired police officers, whose daily routine in the early life of a police officer is to report to the scene as the initial responding officer, and take all pertinent information pertaining to the case at hand.

It is very important to know that the life of a police officer can be a little more complex than just retrieving information for an initial report…The Crime Scene Investigator has the responsibility for the evaluation of the crime scene, uses various types of equipment, develops, secures, and packages physical evidence for scientific evaluation and comparison, prepares detailed reports on the observations at the scene, and testifies in court regarding the findings and processing methods at the crime scene.

INTRODUCTION

Throughout this article, you will be able to obtain enhancing information on the following topics:

  1. The definition of a Crime Scene

  2. A basic Job Description of a Crime Scene Investigator

  3. What is conducted while on the scene

  4. The Nine Major Categories of Physical Evidence

  5. Crime Scene Check List

  6. Basic Equipment for Crime Scene Investigators

Now, I am not going to fill this guide up with “fluff and filter” information, and I may not be an accomplished author, but I will provide you with the basic information needed to conduct a thorough crime scene investigation.

So, if you want the facts on the proven successful information regarding Basic Crime Scene Investigation, then buckle up because I am about to explain the very “meat and potatoes” of this profession.

THE DEFINITION OF A CRIME SCENE:

• A PHYSICAL LOCATION

• WHERE A CRIME HAS ALLEGEDLY OCCURRED

• WHERE POTENTIAL EVIDENCE WAS BROUGHT TO THE SCENE AND WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE SCENE

• WHERE SOMETHING HAS BEEN ALTERED OR DISTURBED IN SOME MANNER

• WHERE POTENTIAL EVIDENCE HAS BEEN CARRIED AWAY

• A STARTING POINT FOR AN INVESTIGATION

A Basic Job Description of a Crime Scene Investigator

PURPOSE:

  • Responsible for complex crime scene investigations.

  • Develops, secures, and packages physical evidence for scientific evaluation and comparison.

  • Is familiar with the use of various types of crime scene equipment.

  • Evaluates the crime scene.

  • Prepares detailed reports on observation at the crime scene.

  • Prepares detailed reports on the activities at the crime scene.

  • Is responsible for all activities regarding the investigation of the crime scene.

  • Prepares testimony in court about the findings at the crime scene and the investigatory methods used.

  • Oversees complex crime scene investigations, including Armed Robberies, Home Invasions, Burglaries, Aggravated Assaults, and Homicides.

  • Processes the crime scenes for the collection of physical evidence, and scientific evaluations and comparisons.

  • Photographs of the entire crime scene.

  • Attends Autopsies.

  • Maintains and accounts for all crime scene equipment.

  • Completes Crime Scene Investigative Reports.

  • Reconstructs the events just prior to, during, and shortly after the commission of the crime to determine the sequence of events

  • Obtains Search Warrant when needed

Recommended courses to become a Crime Scene Investigator

• Basic Law Enforcement Training

• Crime Scene Processing

• Latent Fingerprint Processing

• Major Death Scene Investigations

• Advanced Death Scene Investigations

• Photography

• Blood Spatter Interpretation

• Arson Investigation

• Forensic Pathology

• Crime Scene Sketching

• Photographic Crime Scene Recording

The Crime Scene Investigator must possess a thorough knowledge of the proper chemicals used for evidence development based on the type of materials being processed and employed for a particular situation. The Crime Scene Investigator must be able to visually identify or describe persons, vehicles, locations, and physical evidence by sketching and report writing for providing courtroom testimony.

What Is Conducted While on the Scene?

The Crime Scene Investigator must be aware that most crime scenes will be in an uproar upon his arrival…but it is the Crime Scene Investigator’s responsibility to find out what occurred. There are five basic functions at the crime scene that should be followed, and they are:

• INTERVIEW

• EXAMINE

• PHOTOGRAPH

• SKETCH

• PROCESS

I. INTERVIEW

The Crime Scene Investigator’s first step is to receive a briefing from the first officer to arrive on the scene in order to obtain the “theory” of the case at hand. Find out what happened, what crime was committed, and how the crime was committed.

A. Maintain the Crime Scene as you find it The “Golden Rule” of Crime Scene Investigations;

NEVER TOUCH ANYTHING UNLESS:

  1. It is Marked

  2. It is Photographed or videotaped, and

  3. The evidence is properly removed

B. Use of personnel at the scene (both civilian and police)

C. Use of ropes, barricades, lock doors, and fences

D. Be alert for possible suspects

E. Keep unauthorized personnel out of the crime scene

F. Gather the facts and other information to determine whether a criminal act has occurred.

G. Crime Scene Investigator’s Objective

  1. Reaching a guilty verdict by a judge or jury

  2. With legally obtained evidence, the crime scene investigator must prove:

a. That a crime has been committed, and

b. That the defendant committed the crime

II. EXAMINE

The Crime Scene Investigator’s second step is to examine the crime for the “what”. The Crime Scene Investigator is seeking to ascertain whether the “theory” of the case is substantiated and collaborated by what the responding officer and criminal investigators have observed. Items that can be identified as evidentiary in nature are observed, points of entry/exit, and assessing a general layout of the crime scene is done at this stage.

III. PHOTOGRAPH

The Crime Scene Investigator’s third step is to photograph the crime scene in an effort to record a well-documented pictorial view of what the crime scene looks like, and to record all items of possible evidence. The Crime Scene Investigator will take pictures of everything before touching or moving a single piece of evidence. The medical examiner should not touch a corpse until the photographing is done. There are three types of photographs taken by the Crime Scene Investigator to document the crime scene; overviews, mid-views, and close-ups of the entire crime scene. The use of film should not be an issue.

IV. SKETCH

The Crime Scene Investigator’s fourth step is to create a photographic record of the crime scene. A rough sketch should be completed by the Crime Scene Investigator to keep a documented demonstration of the layout of the crime scene, or to identify the exact positioning of a deceased victim’s body, or evidence that is located within the crime scene. The crime scene sketch may be easier to do than actually photographing the crime scene, because, with the crime scene sketch, several rooms can be depicted, and the fact that point measurements from point ”A” to point “B” can be attained, whereas the camera takes what it sees.

Crime Scene documentation may also include a video walk-through, especially in major cases involving killers or multiple homicides. A video recording can offer a better feel of the layout of the crime scene. Videotaping the crime scene can always help further along, as time lengthens into your investigation, where a piece of evidence or something may have been overlooked or not thought of at the initial crime scene.

The Crime Scene Investigator should use a rectangular sketch or triangulation, and make a sketch of the crime scene as a whole. Each Piece of evidence found at the crime scene should be sketched in its original position, and the distance from a fixed object in the room measured. Sketches are always reproduced to scale for court appearances.

V. PROCESS

After the Crime Scene Investigator has created a full record of the crime scene exactly as it was when he/she arrives, it is now time to collect the evidence. Now is when the Crimes Scene Investigator can start touching things!

THE NINE MAJOR CATEGORIES OF PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

  1. Weapons

If the Crime Scene Investigator locates any firearms, bullets, or casings at the crime scene, he/she puts on latex gloves, picks up the gun by the barrel, and bags everything separately for the lab. Where there are bullet holes in the victim or in other objects at the crime scene, the Crime Scene Investigator can determine where and from what height the bullet was fired from. If the bullet is embedded in a wall or door frame, the Crime Scene Investigator cuts out the portion of the wall or frame containing the bullet.

  1. Body Fluids

Body fluids might include blood, semen, saliva, and vomit. If the victim is dead and there is blood on the body, the Crime Scene Investigator collects a blood sample either by submitting a piece of clothing or by using a sterile cloth square and a small amount of distilled water to remove some blood from the body. If there is blood at the crime scene, there may also be blood spatter. An analysis of blood spatter can help determine which direction the blood came from and how many separate incidents created the pattern.

  1. Latent Impressions

The Crime Scene Investigator can use fingerprints to identify the victim or identify or rule out a suspect. Tools for recovering fingerprints include brushes, powders, tape, lift cards, a magnifying glass, and sometimes Superglue. There are three types of prints found at a crime scene;

a. Visible- left by the transfer of blood, paint, or another fluid to the powder

b. Molded- left in a soft medium like soap, putty, or candle wax

c. Latent- left by the transfer of sweat and natural oils from the fingers

  1. Shoe and Tire Impressions

If a Crime Scene Investigator locates footwear or tire impressions in mud, he/she will photograph it and then make a cast. The Crime Scene Investigator will place the cast into a cardboard box or paper bag for transport to the lab, without cleaning the cast or brushing anything off.

  1. Tool Marks

There are two types of tool marks a Crime Scene Investigator might find at a crime scene;

a. Impressed- a hard object contacts a softer object (hammer vs. door)

b. Striated-a hard object contacts a softer object repeatedly (pry marks on a window).

  1. Questioned Documents

The Crime Scene Investigator collects and preserves any diaries, planners, phone books, or suicide notes located at a crime scene. All signed contracts, receipts, a torn-up letter in the trash, or any other written, typed, or photocopied evidence that may be related to the crime. All evidence at the scene is photographed, logged in, and tagged as evidence. An evidence tag may include identification information such as time, date, and exact location of recovery and who recovered the item(s).

  1. Soil

The Crime Scene Investigator may at any time, collect soil samples at the crime scene, especially if there are unidentified shoes and shoe impressions located at or near the crime scene.

  1. Glass

The Crime Scene Investigator will use fingerprint powder to lift latent prints from glass, plastic, and metal, which are called non-porous surfaces, and Investigators will use chemicals to lift latent prints from paper, unfinished wood, and cardboard, which are called porous surfaces. The only way not to corrupt a latent print on a non-porous surface is not to touch it.

  1. Miscellaneous Trace Evidence

The Crime Scene Investigator may use tweezers, plastic containers with lids, a filtered vacuum device, and a knife to collect trace evidence. Trace evidence might include gunshot residue (GSR), paint residue, chemicals, glass, and illicit drugs. If the crime involves a gun, the Crime Scene Investigator will collect clothing from the victim and anyone who may have been at the crime scene so that the lab can test for GSR. Particles of GSR on the victim can indicate a close shot, and GSR on anyone else can indicate a suspect. If the Crime Scene Investigator locates any illicit drugs or unknown powders at the scene, the substance is collected and then sealed separately in a sterile container.

Crime Scene Checklist

BURGLARY CHECKLIST

  1. Photograph 7. Latent fingerprints

  2. Tool Marks 8. Glass standards

  3. Paint Standards 9. Soil Standards

  4. Safe Insulation Standards 10. Hairs and Fibers

  5. Foot Prints 11. Other crime-related evidence

  6. Tire Tracks

HOMICIDE CHECKLIST

  1. 1-9 on Burglary Check List 8. Suspect’s clothing

  2. Hair Standard 9. Other crime-related evidence

  3. Fingernail Scrapings 10. Weapons

  4. Blood Standards 11. Major Case Prints

  5. Blood Sample 12. Identification Photos

  6. Close-up photos of wounds 13. Attend Autopsy/Collect evidence

  7. Victim’s clothing

Basic Equipment for Crime Scene Investigators

FINGERPRINT EQUIPMENT

• Brushes

  • Fiberglass (3)

  • Camel hair (2)

  • Magnetic wand

  • Wide magnetic wand

• Powders

  • Black (regular and Magna)

  • Silver (regular and Magna)

  • Red wop lift

• Tape (must be compatible with powder and cards)

  • 2” wide

  • 4” wide

  • Rubber tape

• Lift Cards

  • Black

  • White

  • Regular size and 8”x12” in both colors

• Magnifying Glass

CASTING EQUIPMENT

• Plaster of Paris (5lbs.)

• Dental Powder (2 gallons)

• Silicone casting material

• Dupli-cast

• Microcell Rubber

• Mixing Bowl (2 sizes)

• Rubber Spatula

• Reinforcement mesh

• Plastic Bags

• Metal Retaining Ring

• Plastic Weigh Boats

• Wooden Tongue Depressors

• Modeling Clay (for the dam)

• Identifying Tags with string

• Snow wax (for impressions in snow)

PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT

• Cameras

  • 35mm with adjustable controls

  • Digital

  • 2 ¼ with adjustable controls or a larger format

  • Extra batteries for cameras

• Lens

  • Normal

  • Wide angle (28mm maximum)

  • Macro (capable of 1:1 ratio)

  • Telephoto

• Film

  • Color

  • Black and white

  • Adequate supply for both formats

• Flash

  • Compatible strobes for cameras

  • Batteries

  • PC cord (6 – 10ft)

• Tripod

  • Adjustable

• Measuring Devices

  • Disposable rulers

• Filters

  • 80b filter

  • Orange filter

  • Polarizing

• Miscellaneous

  • Lens brush and lens tissue

  • Photoflood light

  • Camera carrying cases

  • Shutter release cable

EVIDENCE PACKAGING SUPPLIES

• Paper bags

  • Assorted sizes

  • Paper

  • For pharmacy folds

• Metal Cans

  • Arson debris

  • Hands

• Glass Vials

• Evidence Tape

• Marking Pen

• Stapler

• Pill Boxes (folding)

BLOOD COLLECTION SUPPLIES

• Sterilized Cloth Squares

• Sterilized Thread

• Glass Microscope plates

• Distilled Water

• Scalpel

• Disposable Scalpel Blades

• Tweezers

• Small Scissors

DECEASED PRINT KIT

• 2” Roller

• 4” Roller

• Black Ink

• Porcelain Pad

• Finger Strips

• Plain Paper

• Ink Remover

• Tissue Builder

HAND TOOLS

• Claw Hammer

• Hack Saw

• Assorted Screwdrivers

• Assorted Pliers

• Pipe Wrench

• Pry Bar

• Vise grips

• Wire Cutters

• Bolt Cutters, pocket knife

• Socket Set (metric and standard)

• Wood Chisels

• Hand Axe

• Shovels

• Sifters

• Slim Jim

• Automobile Door Handle Remover

• Measuring Devices:

  • 26ft steel tape

  • 100ft tape

BIOHAZARD KIT

• Disposable latex gloves

• Disposable footwear protectors (booties)

• Disposable face mask/shield

• Disposable gown/apron

• Disposable Bio-Hazardous waste bag (trash)

MISCELLANEOUS EQUIPMENT

• Flashlight and spare batteries

• Writing paper and report forms

• Graph paper

• Clipboard

• Writing and marking pens

• Metal scribe

• Chalk and crayons

• Cellophane tape and dispenser

• Clear book-binding tape

• Extra evidence tape

• Extra staples and stapler

• Scissors

• Scalpels and replacement blades

• Large and small forceps

• Compass

• Large magnet

• 100ft Nylon rope

• 100ft electrical cord

• Metal detector

• Ultra-violet light: low and high wavelength

• Protective eyewear

• Static lifter

• Portable laser or alternative light source

Find out more about How to Conduct a Basic Crime Scene Investigation by attending my mini-course at:

https://anthony.brillianceelearningsuite.com/crime-scene-investigation

Conclusion

You should now have enough of an understanding to know the basics of Crime Scene Investigations. The level of this article will remain basic because each Law Enforcement department has its own policy, procedure, and protocol.

Thank you,

If there are additional comments or suggestions, email me at dsergeantcraft@yahoo.com

Retired United States Army serving 28 years

Retired Law Enforcement serving 25 years

Ph.D. in Philosophy with a Specialization in General Psychology

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