I am a Crime Scene Investigator, AMA.
Hello! I am a Crime Scene Investigator who also processes evidence in a lab setting. I'd love to answer any questions you might have about my field of work. I tried to post this once, and deleted it while I got my ID verified from a Mod. I got the go-ahead so I'm posting again. In the meantime, I had a subreddit going through /r/casualiama/ that can be found here. http://www.reddit.com/r/casualiama/comments/1he968/i_am_a_crime_scene_investigator_ama/
UPDATE: Sleeping, keep the questions coming though and I'll get to them.
Mine are usually pretty lame.
Do murders evolve like everything else? What I'm asking is now days when you have shows like CSI regardless of their creative license they still have made forensic evidence mainstream. Do you find... cleaner crime scenes now? Do you think criminals are taking more precautions and cleaning up after themselves better after these rise in forensic crime dramas? Thanks for the AMA!
I think a lot of criminals watch TV shows as well, but there are techniques we are capable of that they may not know about. I don't really think in the whole scope of scenes that we are seeing much difference.
What's the coolest technique you use that we wouldn't normally know about?
Touch DNA. We can get DNA off of sweat, fingerprints, hair (without roots), all sorts of fun stuff.
No comment. (A lot, especially hotel rooms.)
That's an interesting question. Depends on your definition of strange, worse has to be small children's underwear. Never an enjoyable experience.
That makes me sad. Poor little kids. I hope you don't find things like that often.
Unfortunately, it happens more often than I'd like.
Have you ever found anything written in semen on a hotel wall? Any names or treasure maps?
the map to Jimmy Hoffa.
Has a crime scene ever actively scared you?
Scenes were the suspect is still at large, or gang-related scenes can be scary in the fact that retaliation can happen at the police while we are there. There have been instances (not in our agency) where drive-by shootings have happened at the scene with gang-related crimes.
yeah that's kind of what I was thinking of.. Wasn't sure if that was solely something that happened on TV. So --excuse me if its a dumb question -- are you technically a part of the police? And have you ever been in actual danger?
I am non-commissioned, so I am technically a civilian. I do no carry a gun or a badge. I am an employee of a law enforcement agency though. To my knowledge, I have not personally been in danger.
and still I will be living vicariously through you during this AMA while I am stuck here in the cornfields. Thanks, OP!
Thanks for growing corn for me to eat.
So how close to reality are most Crime Investigator shows? Not at all close right? Or if not what is one that you find pretty close to reality?
A lot of crime scene shows take a substantial amount of creative license when it comes to the forensic sciences. There are a few things they tend to get right, but we most definitely don't all drive hummers, look like models, or get DNA results back in under an hour.
It sure would. Nice quote.
I have no fingerprints. Skin problem when I was younger and they never came back. Is there a way of registering someone who does not have them. When I have background checks done I have to go back four to five times before they give up. All the FBI does is reject them. Kind of an odd question sorry.
That is a VERY rare situation. Do you have friction ridges (prints) on your palms? What about on your feet and toes? the FBI database has started to enter both palm prints and the area on the ulnar side of your palm (people leave these from looking through windows).
Friction ridges check. Prints on toes no. There are a few straight lines on the tips of my fingers but no swirls. Didn't know it was that rare. No wonder nobody has any idea what protocol is in my situation. Thanks.
Ask them if your palms would be sufficient.
Crime Assessment Trained? Yes.
What has been the worst crime scene you have been to?
Execution-style murder, or a fire-death scene.
Who are you? who, who, who, who?
Have you ever investigated a scene, presented the undeniable evidence to the court, yet they still decided against your findings?
Yes. The only thing we can testify to is the evidence and our role with it. There may have been other factors in the case caused court to rule otherwise, i.e. validity of search warrants, probable cause issues, etc.
That's gotta annoy you. Providing undeniable, undisputable proof that someone committed a crime, but the court throws it away. I know it bugs me when someone throws away all my hard work.
Yes it can be annoying, but there is a reason the criminal justice system exists. I am a firm believer that it is better that 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted.
Do cops dislike you? Do you stroll into a crime scene and flash your badge like.. I'm CSI, Bitch!!
No, we have a very good working relationship with our agency. We are under the jurisdiction of our Criminal Investigation (detectives) so we see many of them on a daily basis. We also have a very good working relationship with our coroner's office. Many people don't realize that a body belongs to the coroner once it is found, because of our good relationship, they allow us to complete our scene investigation before they will touch and remove the body to help us out.
Is there ANY possible way I could kill someone and get away with it in this day and age? I'm only asking for a friend who wants me to kill his wife.
Probably. If he tries really hard, and is lucky.
what is your education background? what kind of schooling and experience do you have/did you need to do what you do?
I have a B.S. in Chemistry and I'm beginning my M.S. in Forensic Science through the University of Florida Distance Learning program soon. I've been at the job for a little under 2 years. With what I do, they were looking for someone that had a background in the hard sciences, the rest of it can be taught. I do the majority of the drug analysis for our agency, so the Chemistry degree definitely helped.
What's the funniest situation you've ever found at a scene?
Woman tied to a bed. She asked her boyfriend to tie her up and then left her there. Neighbor heard her screaming for help 2 hours later and called the police.
So was there anything for you to do there?
Nope, but it was pretty funny.
Have you ever witnessed someone at the scene or in the lab screw up, ruin evidence, and cover up their mistake? Do you know of this happening elsewhere?
I've witnessed plenty of screw ups. Hell I've done it myself, nobody is perfect. We just have to document what happened in our reports and what we did from there, that is pretty much all we can do. When you try to cover up a mistake is where you get into BIG trouble with Brady issues and such.
Does psychology play a role in this process? Is there a forensic psychologist present during the investigation?
In what process? I am responsible for physical evidence, I don't get involved with all that other voodoo. But seriously, with the type of work I do, one would not be necessary.
Love that show. I have a special interest in bloodspatter analysis (not bloodsplatter, that term makes people in our industry crazy) so I get a special kick out of it. When people ask me about my job I like to say I'm like Dexter, but without the killing people.
Follow up question: Do you think you would be able to find evidence that leads to catching Dexter by now? I can't believe he's still a free man.
I'm sure there is evidence out there. I haven't seen past season 4 of Dexter but from what I've seen, he never is in the same place, and few people even know where the scene of his killings are. That would make it tough to investigate.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever found on a crime scene?
Old (80's) man's anal lube gallon sized bottle.
Was it relevant to the case? Or just a random jug of anal lube that was not connected to the case at all?
The girl he brought home said he tried to rape her, so she shot him. Kind of relevant? I'm not sure.
What is the one piece of evidence that always busts the murderer. Like is there a common screw up that all killers have that lead to them getting caught. ....No reason in particular for me asking. :p
DNA is pretty irrefutable. Plus, it can be left in many different ways. If you say you weren't there but your DNA was, you are pretty much hosed.
Do epithelials count as DNA?
Yes, the newer DNA analysis techniques can even get DNA off sweat.
How can I commit murder and get away with it?
Figure out a way to not leave a trace that you were at the crime scene or had no contact with the victim. There is a theory that forensic science is based off of that states, "Every contact leaves a trace." It has held up for 100 years, good luck with that.
Okay, So I first travel cross country to a city on the opposite coast. Walk through the town inconspicuously until I find myself in a secluded alley of some sorts with someone else. Pull a silenced weapon, shoot him in the head, and avert detection by GTFO-ing the scene before the people who heard the shot come running. Leave for home the next day. Also Dispose the weapon, which I only used with gloves, In a trash can, and my gloves in my suitcase on the plane home. I then at home burn the gloves, so that even if I was somehow traced, there would be no physical evidence.
Note that this person would be a complete stranger and I would have no personal connection to him/her whatsoever.
To get a legal silencer it has to be registered with a serial number and owner listed. If someone finds that gun (which will probably be nearby since you wouldn't run through the streets with it) they will be able to match it to you. How did you gun end up on the other side of the country? Oh it was stolen? Why did you not report it? Hmmm...
Surely there are times when you aren't satisfied with the evidence you got at the crime scene though, and can't convict right? TV shows (you're prob sick of hearing about them) make it seem like you catch every one every time.
Many times there can always be more evidence. We don't always catch the suspect.
Invite them out on your boat, push them overboard. Done.
Except for the hairs and fingerprints they are going to leave on your boat. Plus, when you push them overboard, they might grab onto your clothing and take some sort of trace with they when they go over. Plus, the detectives are going to scour phone records, facebook, email, and everything else. Then there is the surveillance video from your boatyard that shows them leaving with you and not coming back. Hmmmm....
Seems too easy...
It always seems too easy.
What's the best way to get rid of a body?
Pig farm is what the movies say.
How much schooling have you had? Whats the grosses thing you've encountered? Have you ever made a mistake that cost the case? Have you ever had a serial killer case? What about a child murder? Hows the smells? Can you refuse to work a case? Whats your favorite genera of movie and favorite food?
B.S. in Chem. 2 week decomp. pulled out of a river. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not too bad once you get used to it. I'm not sure, never have though. Comedy and Sushi.
Have you ever looked at evidence or analysis from older cases that would not be accepted by todays standards? What is an example?
I haven't, sorry.
It would definitely throw a wrench in things. It would be collected as evidence for sure, but I'd hope that there would be other items of evidentiary value present at the scene that would help point at someone. Fingerprints, blood, hair, saliva, etc. Hope that helps, would be interesting though.
I have training in Bloodspatter analysis. I do it myself. There is a very qualified individual out of Washington State that is VERY good too.
How does it feel when you successfully catch someone?
Best part of my job.
Do you have to dress with coveralls in crime scenes?
Depends on the scene. If there is a possibility that DNA evidence will play an important role, then we will wear Tyvek suits (the white bunny suits that you see on tv).
haha Yeah, I wore one on a school play in which I was a CSI. So, explain, in which cases would DNA possibly play an important role?
DNA can play an important role in many different kinds of cases. It can definitively prove that someone was somewhere, which can be hard to prove otherwise.
I work at a police department and have a pretty good understanding of real world physics, forensics, police procedure, etc and at this point my suspension of reality is too high to watch shows like CSI for the most part. Do you experience something similar?
They are comedies to me. I watch them to get a good laugh. Thank you for your service.
What do you do on a slow day?
Catch up on paperwork. There is always paperwork.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Having to disconnect emotionally from the things we bear witness to on a daily basis while still remaining mentally connected. Having to think like a suspect and use that knowledge to help solve a case can be difficult. Few people understand the things law enforcement, military, and paramedics/EMS have to see all the time.
As an EMT who had a bad day thank you for recognizing that we actually see bad shit
I have a great respect for what you guys do. I was a boy scout and had to do mock scenes quite a bit, and have had to use that training in real life (car accidents).
Have you ever had a case in which you had to, say, check the reflection off of the eye of the victim's photo using the freeze frame from a security camera?
Nope, if you have a video software program that can do that you might be able to sell it to the FBI for a lot of money.
I know a person that is finalizing everything to get this kind of job. Any tips for her when she gets it. Stuff to do and not do?
Leave work at work, don't take it home with you.
Have you read any Jeffrey reaver books; specifically the Lincoln rhyme series? I wonder if the things he describes in forensics are as accurate as he makes them seem
I have not, sorry.
What is the pay like? What is starting pay vs. experienced pay?
I do pretty well for the living expenses of the area I'm in. My starting pay was $40,000/year.
What's the dumbest thing you've ever seen a perp do to get caught?
We had a guy burg a store while it was closed and try to run when he saw the police coming. He broke his leg stepping off a curb, so when the officers pulled up he was sitting on the curb surrounded with money and bleeding.
That is pretty funny. Why did CSI get called out to that scene though? Isn't it pretty cut and dried at that point?
There were 3 other places he had already robbed, we processed them anyway.
Does the portrayal of your career in the CSI tv series as being an exciting, case solved every week, sort of thing annoy you? I've heard a huge amount of man hours can go into investigating with no guarantee of success. It would annoy me, but im not sure why.
It doesn't annoy me, makes us seem much cooler than we actually are. There have definitely been some cases I've put a lot of man-hours into.
Seen any X-files type things at your crime scenes?
Nope, just x-files DVDs.
Is there really always seminal fluid everywhere like on TV?
Not always. Tends to be a fair amount in hotel rooms though, beware.
What's the saddest thing you've seen while on the job?
I go into people's houses on what is usually the worst day of their lives. That is pretty sad.
When you put sunglasses on, does this happen?
All the time.
What is the most fucked up, and most emotional thing you have ever seen?
Kid was hunting with his friend, propped his shotgun against the truck while loading up, it started to slip and he grabbed it, shooting his buddy in the head.
when you eat dinner etc do u think about the crime scenes you've witnessed. does it ruin your appetite
I tend to not have BBQ for a few days after doing fire-death scenes, but other than that I don't really think about it. You have to in order to being able to do what we do.
How did you find your way into this career? ie. major in university, jobs worked previous to this one, how you even got wind of an opening for this type of job, etc.
I really wanted to do this when I was young, but I'm studying something else I have more aptitude for now. It would still be nice to see how it gets done by someone who has made it! :)
I have always had an interest in it. I was pretty lucky and had a position open up at a nearby agency that a family friend who is a Sergeant at that agency clued me in about.
What was the most difficult crime you had to solve?
The REALLY involved ones I don't work by myself. All of our CSIs work together on those ones. But, we have had a few homicides that were tricky.
I am planning to go into investigative psychology. Do you happen to have any sort of advice or resources that would be helpful?
Do internships if at all possible. Yes you will probably be getting a lot of coffee for people, but it will make you seem more committed. No pun intended.
What did you go to college for?
Chemistry, and the free t-shirts.
How much can you actually enhance?
Depends on the evidence at hand. Photos and Video can be really tough, things that we photo in the lab can usually be enhanced quite a bit.
Thanks for being here! I am interested in becoming a Crime Scene Investigator and was wondering how you feel about your job? Is it a difficult job to have and do you regret it at times? Does it hinder your everyday feelings towards things? Cheers!
It hasn't hindered my feelings toward things, but I have pretty tough skin. Part of being able to do my job is being able to filter my job from my home life. I don't regret it for anything, I get to help solve crimes!
What percent of crimes you've worked on go unsolved?
I think I answered this already. Sorry.
I used to watch Forensic Files with my roommate all the time. I loved the show, but he said he was scared after watching it. While forensics can help point evidence to a suspect, framing someone seems that much easier. One episode, for example, a guy got convicted for the murder of his wife. His hair and footprint was found at the scene, as well as a leaf of a unique tree in his truck bed. He was convicted, of course. But what if there was a "friend" that grabbed a few stray hairs in the bathroom, took an old pair of his shoes, and chucked a leaf in his truck bed? Imagine all these innocent people going to jail because the evidence against them is so verifiable scientifically. What are your thoughts on that?
Many, many times physical evidence is not the only thing that a conviction goes off of. Unfortunately there have been instances where the wrong people have gone to jail, but in terms of my job I just make sure that I do my job to the best of my abilities and provide it to the detectives and prosecutors.
Did you do well in science to get this job or was it more of a "trained-on-the-job"?
Nothing medical school level, but I did pretty well. There is a lot of "On the job training" though.
What is the weirdest place you have been called out to for a scene?
Nothing that I would consider "weird" so far, sorry I can't answer your question.
Okay one of my favorite shows is Criminal Minds and I've always wanted to take up a career similar to them. How accurate is it to real life, and is it as interesting as they make it on the show. I'm 17 btw
Sorry I haven't seen that show, too busy working. Someone else may have answered it though.
Does your ability to decode situations and find things out ever spill over into your personal life? I imagine you must be very perceptive and I was curious to see if that affects relationships and what not.
It makes for a good bar trick to impress girls to do the Sherlock Holmes thing on them. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Past girlfriends haven't seemed to have a problem with it though.
How unrealistic/realistic are the shows such as CSI: Miami, and all the other CSI's?
Pretty unrealistic in general. There are some things they get right though.
Does 'The Who' ever start randomly playing while you are putting on sunglasses?
All the time. Sometimes I think of walking into work with speakers playing that around me.
I started at $40,000 a year, I do pretty well for the cost of living in my area.
What is the most inconvenient or unique scene you've had to attend?
Guy shot himself after a police chase that ended on the side of the road. It was -10 F outside. Brrrr.
Thanks for the AMA! I was thinking of doing this when i become older. Would you recommend it? Also what are some pros and cons of the job?
I would recommend it if you can handle the gore of it and have an interest and strong attention to detail. As to the pros and cons, if you read through the AMA there is quite a bit of detail. Thanks for the post!
What was the worst crime scene you've seen?
I think I answered this already, toward the top. Sorry.
What made you want to go into crime scene investigating?
It is something that I have always had an interest in. It may have initially evolved from watching the TV shows actually, the same ones that I now laugh at.
So how much has the genetics field impacted working at a crime scene? I'm studying genetics right now, and this interests me. Thanks!
DNA evidence deals mostly with the genetics aspect of CSI work. Most of the newer techniques deal with mDNA and how we are able to get profiles are suspects that we were not able to before.
How often does an agent (from any government crime-related agency) "go rogue" and get involved in a major crime? Certain TV shows make it seem like it happens every other day.
The only time I've been witness to it was the drug analyst from Massachusetts that got busted about a year ago. Other than that I don't think it is a very common occurrence.
This was already asked. What TV Shows or Movies most accurately depict what you do? What is your favorite thing to do for recreation and or leisure?
That is a great question, unfortunately I don't get to watch a lot of the shows, but I have quite a few queued in Netflix to watch eventually. The original CSI: Las Vegas did a pretty good job in the early years before it got a little far fetched. I do scene work and lab work, many agencies have different people for each job. However, I do not carry a gun or interview suspects.
As for recreation and leisure, I enjoy reading and I have been doing martial arts for many years.
What is the first instinct of what to look for at a crime scene? Is there any one thing that could tip the scales one way or another if you see it early on in the investigation?
When we first get to a scene we try to take it all it, then break it down from there. Drugs, guns, money, and alcohol are usually pretty big clues though.
Off the top of your head, what percent of the time is there jizz found at a crime scene?
Depends on the scene. Sex crimes probably 90%. Home burglaries maybe 1%?
Thoughts on shows like CSI and all of that? Is any of that true? Seems like not but would like to hear your opinions.
I think I answered this one already, sorry. There are some things they do that are pretty accurate, but still a lot of dramatic license is taken. I don't chase the bad guys with a gun.
Does it frighten you how jaded you can become to things that should terrify you?
Good question. It really does sometimes. People who are around death and other normally terrifying things (Police, EMTs, Doctors, etc.) develop a condition called "Gallow's Humor" where we try to make light of certain situations my turning to joking about it. Really weirds normal people out.
About how many hours a week do you work? Do you have regular hours, or is it mostly on call?
I have regular 8-5 hours, with a rotating on-call schedule where I'm on-call for a week. In fact, I'm on-call now.
Are your one-liners as weak as Horartio's?
Or do they
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