By Casson Reynolds, MSCJ, CCSA

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) are commonly tucked away at a law enforcement agency from the rest of the personnel. They are sequestered with their drying chambers, fumes from various chemicals, odors from collected evidence, and shelves of equipment and evidence packaging materials. They will be called upon to respond to a scene and process for evidence, reconstruct and analyze, document and collect. Once finished at the scene, they return to the agency to submit a report of their findings, send evidence to the crime lab for testing and prepare for the next call.

However, one of the most important aspects of any investigation is commonly overlooked. CSIs are not personally asked for their insight, thoughts on leads, or input on hypothetical situations after the initial on-scene investigation.

Incorporating CSI personnel into investigations

As crime scene investigations and forensics continues to grow within the criminal justice system and law enforcement, many agencies are still working to determine how they should incorporate CSI personnel into their investigations.

Whether a CSI is sworn or not, they have a different mentality than many other detectives/investigators and can provide additional perspectives and theories on cases.

CSIs should be viewed as an integral part of the investigations of an agency and should be consulted at several stages of the investigation, as well as being part of any final case review.

CSIs are more than individuals trained in taking photographs and collecting evidence. CSIs need to understand several aspects of forensic science to include:

Latent print development and collection; Crime scene photography; Measuring and sketching; Searching and evidence collection; Bloodstain pattern analysis; Shooting incident reconstruction; Recovery of buried remains; Medico-legal death investigations; Pattern matching; Alternative light sources; Full spectrum imaging; Chemical processing; Crime scene reconstruction; Forensic lab capabilities; Potential and fleeting evidence.

It is unlikely an investigator will know everything a crime scene investigator accomplished and discovered based on their report. Ideally, the detective and CSI would have time to sit down together and discuss the case and the possible directions it could take. Many times, aspects of a report will be overlooked or “breezed” through because it will not seem important to the detective; however, as the case continues, the one puzzle piece the detective can’t find may have been sitting there in a report or in the mind of a crime scene investigator all along. CSIs think differently than detectives.

Agencies with a dedicated forensics or crime scene units have a strong advantage in working crime scenes and should work to incorporate this specialized knowledge and skill into a fully comprehensive investigative unit.

Crime scene investigators should be included in weekly discussions of the progress of cases and potential directions of investigations.

How a CSI can enhance investigations

The evidence-based approach of a CSI enhances an investigation and can provide scientifically supported opinions.

A detective should go to a CSI and pose to them theories and scenarios about the incident and crime. The CSI, in turn, should either state that the evidence confirms a detective’s scenario, disproves a detective’s scenario, or cannot be confirmed or disproved based on the evidence. The CSI should be able to support their opinions or insight on the evidence and the aspects of the crime scene. The CSI may need to take the detective’s scenario and form a specific testable hypothesis and conduct experiments in order to provide a valid opinion.

The crime scene investigators should especially be consulted prior to the final case reports and should submit their own final forensic case report. The final forensic case report would brief their actions in the case and specifically highlight actions taken after the initial scene processing and where the evidence led. This final forensic case report would tie all of the evidence together and address many of the hypothetical or case related theories that evidence and testing proved or disproved.

The training and education of crime scene investigators and detectives regarding a mutually beneficial workplace environment is the key to moving forward with today’s enhanced and fast moving crime scene investigations and abilities. CSIs should attend general investigations courses; detectives should attend CSI courses; and the administration at agencies should facilitate and encourage a group approach to ensure a thorough investigation.

About the author Casson Reynolds, MSCJ, CCSA, is an instructor/developer with the North Carolina Justice Academy tasked with instructing and developing courses in advanced forensics and investigations. He is a Certified Crime Scene Analyst through the International Association for Identification, has a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice from Boston University and was sworn in law enforcement for 14 years. He is the co-chair of the Training Committee of the North Carolina Division of the International Association for Identification and an adjunct professor in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Forensic Science Graduate Program. He has been recognized as a subject matter expert in federal and state courts in crime scene reconstruction, shooting reconstruction, bloodstain pattern analysis, latent print development and identification, and general crime scene investigations.

Your Account

Create or login to your account to enjoy discounts and rewards.

Share This
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop
      Calculate Shipping
      Apply Coupon
      Available Coupons
      admin20 Get $20.00 off $20 off your cart total.
      adminpromo Get 100% off Free item offered by the administrator
      Unavailable Coupons
      adminsubscriptionretiredfirstpayment Get $120.00 off First payment of retired subscription when paid and added manually.
      cabinfree2days Get $90.00 off Get 2 free nights at the cabin.
      cabinfreeweek Get $315.00 off A free week (7 days) at the associated cabin in one contiguous stay at the time of your choice.
      freebassentry Get 100% off
      golfsponsor Get 100% off Free admission to the tournament with a golf sponsorship.
      jh$25 Get $25.00 off Jonathon Hall reimbursement for shirt he purchased that was too small.
      ldf1month Get $13.00 off Prorate an LDF membership for 1 month discount
      ntcvendorcomp Get 100% off This coupon entitles the user to a free vendor table at the NTC conference.
      retired10 Get $10.00 off
      retired60 Get $60.00 off This discounts your current year renewal $60 since you already pre-paid $60 towards your renewal for this year.
      spmtc Get 20% off Special 20% Off all Motor T's for a limited time!