Friday, July 15, 2011

Forensic Friday Has Returned


The wait has come to an end!  Today, Forensic Friday is back with a special guest, Richard Goodship.  I met Richard on Twitter, and as soon as I realized he was not only a fellow writer but a retired Forensic Investigator, I knew he would be a terrific guest to have.

Richard has answered some questions below, but has also agreed to answer any that you might have up until Sunday.  So be sure to leave them in your comment.  Without any more delay, here he is.

Welcome to my blog Richard.  

Glad to be here.~~~

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I started my career on the police 26 years ago and worked the last 22 years in the Forensic Identification section (FIS in Canada as opposed to CSI in the US). During that time I became a Bomb Tech/Post Blast Tech, Fingerprint Examiner, Firearms Reconstructionist/Weapons Expert, Blood Spatter and Arson Investigator.  There’s more but you get the idea.

I understand you’re retired, but still young.  Where did you work as a Forensic Investigator?  If you don’t want to specifically name the city, what was the population size?  If it’s safe to answer this, how many investigators were in the department?

Initially I worked for a Constabulary in Northern Ontario before moving to southern Ontario.  I spent the last 5 years of my career with the Attorney General’s Office travelling the province investigating crime scenes.  While on the Constabulary there were two of us in the section.  This made for lots of overtime.

Tell us briefly about your job as a Forensic Investigator.  What exact responsibilities fell into that position?  Was it field and lab work, or strictly one or the other?

It was both field and lab however most of the extensive lab work especially bio from bodies would be sent or delivered to the Centre For Forensic Sciences in Toronto.  The Forensic Investigators prime directive is to investigate a scene, locate evidence, preserve evidence (photography) collect evidence and interpret the evidence. Over the years the technology and science to accomplish these things has advanced dramatically. (Yes, a lot of the stuff you see on CSI does exist) A Forensic Investigator has to be both an Investigator and a Scientist and must constantly go back to either the Police Colleges or Universities to maintain their expert qualifications in court.

Tell us the first thing you do when you arrive at a crime scene where there’s a DB.  And do you normally arrive before or after the Medical Examiner?

In Canada it’s usually the Forensic Investigator that calls in the Coroner.  This is done after the scene has been secured properly.  The Coroner is then taken through the scene and informed of what has occurred and what has been found and if there are any concerns.  In Canada we investigate all sudden deaths to determine the cause.  The Coroner will then provide warrants for post mortem and for burial.

When you first arrive at the scene you make sure that it is secure.  You determine as quickly as possible where the obvious/visible things are.  Before you even step into a scene you begin photographing and video taping.  You determine a route into the scene that will least disturb any possible evidence and you begin your scene examinations.  We usually just stand at the edge, look down at our toes and that’s where you start.

Describe how it feels in the moment when you first arrive to a call where there’s a DB.  Does it feel dark and cold?  What emotional response did it conjure in you?

There is a certain feel to a place that has a body.  But there is also a feeling you get after a while of whether or not that body died there.  It’s hard to explain but you learn to pick up on certain things.  The body leaves distinctive tell-tale reminders behind and sometimes you can pick up on that if the body died in one place and moved to another.  That’s when you hone in on the body itself to help you.  And of course what’s underneath the body.

Is it common for investigators and cops and make small talk to lighten the atmosphere at the scene of a violent crime?

We try not to when the media is around lol.. Bad form, but you do get a weird sense of humour in the section.  It’s a normal way of dealing with things.

On television we see endless hours, and pricey lab testing continue until the killer is found.  Is the same amount of drive evident in real life?  Or are there limitations either in budget or man hours that prevent the amount of detail put into a case?

In Canada, homicides are not budgeted.  It costs what it costs. We may pare back the number of people working on a case as it gets older but only because the amount of evidence to be found gets smaller.  Should a break come then all the manpower needed is brought back into play. 

Was most of the testing done on site or set away to another lab?  For example, in the city I live, I know they send more complex forensic findings to a larger municipality.

Here, we don’t send our evidence to another Police Force unless we accompany the evidence and do the work ourselves.  Mostly if we are unable to do the examination we bring it to the CFS as I talked about earlier.  Evidence continuity must always be maintained and the less the evidence is moved about the better.

How long, typically doesn’t it really take to get results from different tests?  Example:  ballistics, DNA, fingerprinting.

That depends on the severity of the case.  Homicides get priority at the CFS but then they have other homicides to do as well.  If you put a rush on things, usually one to two weeks depending on the amount of evidence submitted for DNA examination.  Ballistics can be done by some police labs but usually it is also sent to the CFS.  Fingerprints are done ‘in house’ and can take from a few hours if you have suspects already to a couple of days if you’re doing a Canada wide computer search.

Along the lines of fingerprinting, if you have a good print and run it through IAFIS and don't get a hit, are there other databases you can use?

If you don’t get a ‘hit’ on IAFIS system then chances are the fingerprint belongs to someone who hasn’t been charged yet.  At that point you have to set the print aside and look for other evidence to point you in the right direction. Once you’ve got a suspect and he’s charged then you can print him and compare.  Sometimes you can get prints voluntary or if you have a suspect, then he/she can leave fingerprints behind on something you can collect.

What kind of training do the techs have? Since science is always advancing, how often do they need to be recertified?
The lab techs would have significant training in the specialised fields they work in and the training is constant.  Most would have a Masters degree or Phd in their respective fields.

Can you explain a bit about how a chain of evidence is followed in real life?

The ‘chain of evidence’ or ‘continuity of evidence’ is one of the most important things.  You must always be able to account for what has happened to the evidence, where it was located, who collected, how it was collected, how was it preserved, where it was stored, when it was examined and how and why by whom.  When it was transferred to another lab etc...every second must be accounted for or the evidence could be thrown out of court.

What are the stupidest things they show on TV CSI shows that people might believe?

Love the light shows. Lazers et al. Lol.. also the time frame of their findings.  The shows themselves are technically correct but in Hollywood it has to translate onto the TV or screen.  It has to ‘look’ good.  And of course every police forensic section should be as well equipped lol.

Can someone still leave fingerprints while wearing nitrile gloves?

That would depend on a few things.  In forensics we live by the fact that every contact leaves a trace.  Both from the person doing the contacting and from the object contacted.  Surgical gloves and nitrile gloves are designed to be thin enough for the person wearing them to still have a feel for what they are touching.  If they’ve touched an oily part of their body and pick up a heavy object, then the ridges on the dermis of the fingertips/palms could translate through the thin material and onto the object.  Aslo, some leave the gloves behind thinking its okay.. love when that happens because they’ve left their prints on the inside of the gloves..

How long does a credit card trace take?

No idea. Lol. We leave that to the fraud squad.

How much can you really tell from a blood spatter pattern? Can you give me some examples of what's reasonable to infer and what's Hollywood-influenced?

Well I don’t watch the CSI type shows or movies.  Most of us don’t. Too frustrating.  But with blood spatter a great deal of information can be gathered.  The direction of the blows, the count of blows, the height of the person being struck, the height of the attacker, the vehemence  of the attack, sharp or blunt weapon.

If your evidence is soil/earth, does it get worked at your general forensics lab or sent to a forensic geologist specialist?

That would be sent to the Chemistry section at the CFS for examinations.

If bodies were buried in graves for years, would this type of work immediately fall to a forensic anthropologist instead of a Medical Examiner or Coroner?

No.  The scene itself always falls under the forensic investigator.  I’m trained in forensic archaeology and there are others in Canada with the same training.  In Canada the cut off for a body is 50 years between what’s called the ‘Post Mortem Interval’ or PMI.  Thats the time between death and discovery.  If its earlier than 50 years, it is forensic if older it becomes simply an archaeological finding.  The reason being is that if its older than 50 years, the chances of the culprit still being alive is usually slim.  An anthropologist would be consulted to determine origin of the remains only.
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Richard Goodship is the author of "The Camera Guy".  You can connect with Richard Goodship on Twitter or on his blog.



Life was not easy for Forensic Investigator Bill Walters. His ability to see the spirits of the victims at his crime scenes gave him an edge, but it kept him isolated from his fellow Officers and gave him the reputation of being a 'Nutbar' on the force.

Bill could live with this. He could even live with the family of ghosts that haunted his apartment, the loss of his friends and religion and the estrangement of his daughter, Eryn.

What Bill couldn't live with was the Demon that came to town hungry for those spirits.

Available on Amazon