By Detective Douglas S. Cerce, Jr.
With the success of television shows such as CSI, Forensic Files, and police dramas that focus on criminalistics, many of the questions I answer while at a crime scene and dealing with victims of crimes have to do with things people see on these shows.
While these shows are entertaining, they are sometimes misleading in their application of certain methods used to process a crime scene and later develop this evidence, make an arrest, and close the case in 48 minutes without commercial interruption.
The Smithfield Police Department as well as every other police agency in the state works hand in hand with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, which has state of the art equipment used to process evidence submitted to them by the local and state police.
I have just completed the first semester of BMS 101 (Bio Medical Science) at the University of Rhode Island more commonly known as BCI school (Bureau of Criminal Identification). This class, run in conjunction with the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, focuses on fingerprint examination, photography, and the enhancement of latent prints through different scientific processes.
Below I will describe different tools and methods utilized by the Detective Division at the Smithfield Police Department when investigating different crimes.
Fingerprint powders and brushes
These brushes are used with specific colored powders and are used with contrasting backgrounds. For example, a black piece of furniture will be processed with white dusting powder. The magnetic dusting powder uses iron filings mixed with black dusting powder to develop latent prints on certain non-metallic substrates.
Also known as super glue fuming. This process is used to develop latent prints on an object by placing it in a covered fish tank and heating a small amount of superglue with the use of a mug warmer. The super glue vapors adhere to the water and oils in a latent print and form a white crust where the friction skin ridges have left their deposit.
This hand held device is powered butane that heats small capsules filled with superglue that then releases the vapors onto the object to be processed.
Ninhydrin is a chemical used in processing latent prints on paper. It develops the print into a pink color, which can then be photographed.
Small Particle Reagent
This liquid is used on objects that have been submerged in water. A fingerprint can still be developed even after being exposed to the elements, given the right conditions.
Portable Fingerprint Kit
This kit is used to process victims on scene to provide elimination prints so they may be ruled out as a suspect. This kit may also be used to print job applicants or suspects.
Livescan Fingerprint Station
This is used to process persons arrested, suspects, or even elimination prints from victims. This inkless system can scan a fingerprint and the true identity of a suspect can be emailed to the department in fifteen minutes.
This machine can compare a lifted latent print to a known inked print.
Forensic Identification Workstation (Ventilation Hood)
This workstation directs the airflow into a filter above. Working with fingerprint dust and certain chemicals are toxic and precautions must be taken when working with these items.
Digital, 35mm, and Polaroid cameras
These cameras are used for a variety of different applications such as close up photography, copying mug shot photos, or documenting an accident or crime scene.
Multiplexer, time lapse VCR, and monitor
This equipment is used for playing back and viewing of surveillance footage, which has been seized as evidence at crimes where closed circuit television is utilized.
Audio Surveillance Recording Equipment
Also referred to as a body wire, this allows an officer to record a conversation by way of a hidden microphone, which is broadcast to a surveillance officer.
Radio Frequency Detection Unit
Also called a bug sweeper, this handheld device uses an expandable antenna that will indicate the use of a frequency being transmitted. Used to check a room for illegal video or audio surveillance.
These chemicals, devices, and gadgets are only a few of the resources the Smithfield Police Detective Division has access to. Other departments often times share resources and personnel to aid their investigations. Also used is the New England State Police Information Network (NESPIN). This agency has various equipment, funds, and services available to all New England States who are members of this organization.
Much of the technical advancements in areas such as fingerprint science, facial recognition, DNA, and computers it comes down to the investigator talking to people and asking the right questions. With all of these advancements, it is still good old-fashioned police work that solves a case.