DC Police Crime Scene Unit

Trip Start Aug 08, 2009
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Trip End Aug 30, 2009


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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I was collected from outside the Hostel by Grant G from the Crime Scene Unit in a really large Crime Scene truck. I must say this turned a few heads!

Grant is a veteran CSI with over 20 years service and is now in charge of procurement and training of staff within the DC Unit.

It was interesting to note that they face the same problems we do in the UK - understaffing, not enough financing to purchase what they need and long shifts (although overtime is always freely available!).

Shifts are worked by all officers but they spend a large proportion of time attending court and taking their exhibits to and from court. For example, they could be on a late shift but attend court all day then go into the Unit to complete their shift.This is considered the norm by the unit.

They have 2 distinct CSI roles, those that deal with all crime types up to burglary and those who just deal with bodies, major crime and murder investigations. They have a painfully high murder rate per head of population  and deal with a significantly high rate of rape with a large amount of these involving children.

They recruit mostly from either serving police officers who volunteer to come onto the CSI Unit or from graduates leaving the nearby George Washington University with a Masters degree.

They then undertake a three week induction typed course which Grant runs. This is also attended by other CSIs from DC policing units as well as FBI and other federal deaprtments such as Parks Police. DC is split in 26 different policing units which explains  the confusion when I have been talking to officers from different policing areas!

The next course is in three weeks and has a total of 43 people attending it.

The in-house learning follows the DC Police general orders that specify how evidence should be collected.and students are tested in a mock court at the end of the three weeks to see if they have followed these in thieir collection of evidence from a mock scene set by Grant.

There are not training facilities at the Unit and so mock scenes are set in unused buildings available in the DC area.

CSIs also have to sit a paper which Grant describes as very easy. This process validates a CSI to work for 2 years before they have to undertake revalidation.

Revalidation can take many forms, for example, this year the unit has just taken posession of 3 360 degree cameras for the first time and so Grant is using the training up of officers in these as part of their validation process.

I was shown the evidence preparation room where exhibits are brought back form scenes and packaged before passing to the officers responsible for storage and transfer of these exhibits. I asked how exhibits are packaged at scenes and Grant said normally they are put into bags, the top of the bags tied in an overhand knot and then the exhibits repackaged in this room.

A new forensic Lab is on the cards to be built but this process has slowed down after the tendering process ran into problems so there is no definate date as to when this will be completed.

Hairs and fibres are recovered from clothing in an office that is also used for storage around the outside. A piece of brown paper is placed on a desk and then fibres and hairs are recovered in this environment.

They have access to a large drying room with at least 10 drying cabinets as well as freezers of varing temperatures to store DNA evidence.

All exhibits are stored for 67 years and then destroyed.

I also visited a SARC centre. This has government funding but the SARC Nurse was unsure how long the funding would be for. It was here that we collected 4 kits for transfer to the CSI unit. These would be kept for a very short period of time before being destroyed fully. no aspects of the sampling are kept if the IP does not make a formal complaint within 60 days.

In terms of competency. Once officers have completed the three week course, they are then able to attend crimes up to burglary with a mentor and their work is reviewed by a supervisor. If they are underperforming, the uniformed officers are send back to their units. Civillian CSIs who underperform are, in Grants words, 'more difficult to deal with'. he said that typically if they are struggling, they tend to go on long term sick and are dealt with this way.

What is a problem is that many young CSIs out of GW University, come to the unit, get trained and then leave to go to other areas as the pay for DC, whilst good,allows little in the way of spare money once houseing etc is paid for. It is very expensive to live and work here in the Capital.

Both types of CSI's are paid exactly the same wage ('No way' I hear out UK VCSIs say) so to deal with more serious crimes all the time is the same pay as volume crime. Most CSIs want to join the murder teams although some choose to stay with volume crime.

No photographs were taken during this visit I'm afraid as I was so engrossed with what I was seeing and the conversations that went on that I completely forgot!!! I will ask Grant to do some for me.

I will try and get some sent over from Grant as he is forwarding me the training schedule when this is finalised and also the Genreal Orders.

A really great day for me today I have to say. George Washington university tomorrow to join up the dots.

Thought for the day (plagerised from my host) 'It is what it is'.


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