Real World CSI (Crime Scene Investigation)
When the on-scene Patrol Commander decides that a crime scene needs the CSU, he or she contacts the Homicide Unit. The Homicide Commander dispatches detectives and notifies the CSU Commander, who sends out a crew of two or more CSU investigators. In the meantime, patrol has lockdown (contained) the perimeter of the crime scene and the witnesses. They prepare information about the victim, suspects and witnesses.
One CSU investigator arrives at the scene and is responsible for carefully documenting the case. Among the recorded details are: time of arrival, weather conditions, who did the briefing, who is present at the scene, how is the perimeter locked down, and how the scene looked when CSU arrived.
Meanwhile, the other CSU investigator drives up in a large van, which is a mobile evidence-processing vehicle. That investigator will be in charge of photographing and filming the crime scene throughout the investigation.
The on-scene Patrol Commander briefs the CSU investigators and Homicide detectives. Known witnesses, suspects, and victims are identified and triaged. The Homicide detectives question any suspects and witnesses.
Once the briefing and a walkthrough is over, the CSU alerts the County Coroner of the crime. In the Santa Clara Valley, only Coroners have jurisdiction over a body at a crime scene. At this point, the County Coroner and his/her crew are on standby. They do not come out until they receive a follow-up call from CSU. It is important that CSU finish documenting and collecting evidence without anything being disturbed or moved, including the body.
The History of CSU at SJPD
Prior to the formation of the CSU, SJPD patrol officers were responsible for the identification, collection, and preservation of physical evidence. With a huge increase in homicides during the late 1960s and 1970s, the SJPD decided that it needed a dedicated crime scene investigation team.
At that time, the Narcotics Unit (now Covert Response Unit) had a stakeout van, cameras, and other resources in their undercover operations that could be used in crime scene investigation. To expedite the creation of a crime scene unit, the SJPD assigned two sergeants and two officers from the Narcotics Unit to the newly formed CSU.
Among the initial CSU members was Sergeant Audrey Parrot, who still teaches crime scene processing and fingerprint identification. Sergeant Parrot recalled that in the early days, Narcotics and CSU had to share a van. This created a challenging situation whenever the two units had calls at the same time.
Eventually, the SJPD provided the CSU with two used vans that were previously owned by the telephone company. The vehicles were empty panel vans with no equipment. Sergeant Parrot was good at woodworking and took the vans home to outfit them with shelves and storage compartments
From these humble beginnings, the CSU developed over the years and is now well equipped with a fully outfitted modern mobile laboratory..
Collaboration is the Key
Solving a homicide relies on cooperation and collaboration. CSU works closely with Homicide detectives, the County Coroner, and other agencies. "Although our roles are separate, we're trying to get to same end result, " comments Sergeant McFadden. "Homicide detectives are trying to solve the case via statements. We (CSU) are trying to solve the case via evidence. We collaborate to build a case."
With only one sergeant and six officers to provide 24 x 7 city-wide coverage, CSU cannot come out to every scene of violence. For certain events, the SJPD uses Patrol Evidence Cars, which are patrol officers with training and certification from CSU. If a violent event does not end in a homicide, a Patrol Evidence Car is usually dispatched. Sergeant McFadden points out, "We rely heavily on Patrol Evidence Cars. There are cases that don't result in homicides. You can have a shooting, stabbing, or domestic violence that need the Patrol Evidence Car officers to ensure that evidence is processed the correct way." Currently, the SJPD has approximately 10 to 15 Patrol Evidence Cars operating on each shift.