How the Pros Investigate Crime Scenes

November 30, 2009

How the Pros Investigate Crime Scenes Almost everyone has seen television shows where law enforcement authorities come upon a crime scene and start collecting physical evidence of a break-in, an assault, or perhaps a murder, for scientific study. Some graduates of Saint Leo University’s criminal justice program may end up filling such jobs, and Assistant Professor Jalika Waugh (pictured above, right) makes sure they understand the demands of real life rather than the illusions of Hollywood.

Every other semester, Waugh, who worked as a crime scene investigator in Arizona, offers an undergraduate course, Criminal Justice 343: Bodily Fluids as Evidence, which gives students an accurate understanding of the work involved in collecting and examining evidence. “It’s not like “CSI' on TV,' she said. “You’re not going out to a crime scene in high heels, carrying a gun, and leaving the camera on the floor.'

To illustrate the point, she had her class of about 12 students prepare a mock-crime scene using synthetic (not harmful to the environment) blood. Blood was dispersed on long rolls of paper. Then students had to determine how they would evaluate the blood spatter patterns, document details of the scene (with diagrams, notes and photographs), and collect evidence samples for eventual use in court. Wardrobe is key for real crime scene investigators, but unlike actors, the real investigators need gloves, booties, protective eyewear, face masks, and sometimes even a full protective suit, more commonly known as a 'bunny suit.' "It’s typical to wear a bunny suit when biological material is present," Waugh said. The purpose is two-fold. The worker needs to be protected from potential harm. So does the evidence, from possible contamination by the investigator. Hair, dust, or perspiration could fall from the investigators’ clothing and change the chemistry of the crime scene, she explained.

Students in the course also learn to identify different fluids, to determine angles of motion, and to understand a virtual autopsy, among other important topics. The course carries three academic credits.