There is an old saying that a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. In forensic science, that weak link is often the crime scene investigator.
Case in point: In the news is a case involving the death of one young man and the shooting of two others. The crime scene investigator (CSI) was questioned about his effort and asked why he did not measure the location of the bullet holes in the victim’s truck, the actual size of the defects, and failed to use rods to assist in understanding the bullets paths through the truck. His response was priceless, telling the court “I’m not an expert. Mainly I’m just there to pick up the evidence.” Really? So you’re an evidence picker-upper?
This mindset, what I call the “garbage collector” syndrome is unfortunately too common. Crime scene investigators fail to understand their role as the “expert” at the crime scene. Understand, I’m making no statement that demands the CSI must be a shooting scene, bloodstain pattern or any other type of expert, but they are in fact the “crime scene” expert.
No matter what label we choose to assign to this individual, crime scene investigator or evidence technician, there are clear and specific expectations that come with the job. CSI’s are responsible for documenting the scene and collecting any evidence found there in as pristine a condition as is possible. This demands a general understanding of the nature of physical evidence and the appropriate manner in which any evidence encountered must be documented and or collected for subsequent analysis.
So whose problem is this? In my opinion responsibility lies in both the leadership of police organizations and the individual. In the case discussed, there is an entire chain of command between the Chief of Police and the self-labeled “evidence picker-upper.” Which of these leaders took the time to know what the crime scene investigator was doing in his daily routine, or cared enough to inform themselves of what he should be doing? What resources in terms of equipment and training did they provide this individual? Hard questions that in this case have doubtful answers.
Failure of leadership is often a root problem, but what of personal responsibility? Lacking a supportive chain of command, once assigned the individual could have taken the time to pick up a book, take a college course or somehow seek to ensure they had the knowledge necessary to do the job they were assigned to. There are far too many resources available to today’s CSI to hold to any claim that “I didn’t know.”
The bottom line is one must ask themselves: Am I my organizations weak link? And if so what are you going to do to about it?