I have spent the last 44 years closely tied with forensics. Whether it was during my time in law enforcement, or my years in the private business sector, I have worked with, interacted with, and managed forensic crime solving operations.
In the early years, I was involved directly as a forensic participant and, later, as a stakeholder that relied upon forensic information to advance the criminal investigations I was responsible for conducting or supervising.
As a 20-year old rookie, I was responding to homes and businesses with my trusty Mamiya, twin-lens, reflex 2-1/4 camera, an old scuffed up black case containing a fingerprint kit, various bags, tags and markers as well as a few basic hand tools to process burglary scenes for latent fingerprints, tool marks, shoe prints and more.
Over the years, I have responded to murder and aggravated assault crime scenes, carefully negotiated around pools of blood oozing out in a circular pattern on linoleum floors; felt the warmth of the blood rising; and smelling the iron in the air. I have pulled knives out of toilet tanks, picked up fired cartridge cases and tried to follow projectiles that penetrated windows and walls.
I have been the guy at the lowest end of the seniority line with no one else to hand the unpleasant assignments off to. For example, there was a time when I would get the very low stuff - the very high stuff, the very hot stuff – the very cold stuff as well as the very dirty and smelly stuff too.
It’s the adrenaline rush – that’s what makes you come back the next day ready willing and able to take the next call. Plus you get to see some pretty strange and curious things that most people only get to read about or see in a movie.
One shooting scene I will never forget; my colleague and I found the victim sitting on the sidewalk leaning against the façade of a liquor store. The victim was alert and talking with some of the people in the small crowd that had gathered around him.
As we drew close I could see that he had been shot smack in the middle of his forehead. The projectile had not fully penetrated the skull and there was a single drop of blood stalled on the bridge of his nose.
The base of the bullet was protruding just enough that I could have plucked it out with my thumb and index finger, and patched up the hole with a little spackle. I didn’t.
The guy was lucky. By some fluke of physics involving the gun, the ammo, his head or an improbable combination of all three - the bullet didn’t kill him, nor radically alter the way he would live out the remainder of his days.
We were lucky too. The victim was able to tell us just what happened and who did it. It doesn’t always happen that way especially with gunshots to the head. That is why investigators depend upon – and need –forensics to understand what happened and who did it.
“After putting in some decades “in the trenches”, I moved up the line and, as senior manager, occupied that space where the proverbial buck is believed to stop. So it is with no small amount of experience that I can say that, over the years, the operators that I have worked with can be plotted on a standard bell curve in terms of their dedication and effectiveness. Most were good – some were great – and some were neither, well…not nearly approaching great nor even good for that matter.
So what makes the difference between good folks in this business and bad ones? I submit to you that it’s this difference that determines success and failure.
Recently, I read an article discussing the Seven Deadly Sins and it got me thinking how they would apply in forensic crime solving operations.
Here goes: Agree? Disagree? Other?
The Seven Deadly Sins of Forensic Crime Solving Operations
- Lust - Empire building - focusing on status, power and authority instead of serving the public.
- Gluttony - Pursuing and acquiring resources then not using them to their fullest crime solving potential.
- Greed - Refusal to form partnerships and alliances to share data, technology and resources.
- Sloth – A failure to make use of all the tools in the crime solving tool box – a failure to understand the meaning of “duty bound”.
- Wrath – Actions taken or actions withheld because of anger toward a particular person or agency.
- Envy - Rejecting proven best practices because you did not design them.
- Pride – An expert “I know best” mentality preventing collaboration with stakeholders to find a better way.
The more serious the crime is, the more these seven deadly sins stand in the way of justice. Unlike the man at the liquor store who had been shot in the head yet lived to tell about it, murder victims can no longer speak for themselves, so society must speak for those who have lost their voices. It’s a responsibility as old as the bible which tells us to: Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute - Proverbs 31:8
Bringing this back to street level, all I can say is that when we had outstanding forensic support, free from the entanglements of these seven deadly sins – we produced better work, solved more cases, and spoke more loudly and more clearly for those who could no longer speak for themselves.