Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation

 

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TV Shows like CSI, Bones, Forensics Investigators, Snapped, and many more have certainly familiarized most of us with the world of Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation. At least we are familiar with the TV depictions of these events.  As the library read through continues I am finding myself immersed with 360’s books about the way in which real life forensics assists and/or solves crime scene investigations, how forensics contributes to the judicial system, and how these relentless investigators deal with the things they see and do in their line of work as well as many other very interesting aspects of an investigator’s job. TV shows often feature one character doing multiple jobs when doing autopsies. In reality forensics investigators are highly specialized. For instance there are pathologists (who work with soft tissue) and anthropologists (who work with bones), and yet others who process the actual crime scenes just to name a few of the jobs that are done. After a body is removed from the crime scene, it will be sent to a pathologist first for examination of the soft tissue and then the body will be sent to an anthropologist for examination of the bones. All of these professionals contribute to the discovery of clues.  This topic is one that has always been of interest to me, but I realize it may not be for everyone.

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Teasing Secrets From the Dead  is written by real life forensic anthropologist Emily Craig, Ph.D. Dr.Craig discusses how her career as a medical illustrator and her love for art led her into making clay models of missing persons and then into the fascinating world of forensics. I found it pretty amazing to learn that art and forensics are very good partners-sometimes in unexpected ways. Doctor Craig also shares some of her very interesting cases throughout her career and how they were solved (or not). In addition to single deaths and homicides, the author has worked multiple death events such as Waco, Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center, fires, plane crashes, and natural disasters.  In describing her cases, the author does an amazing job of highlighting various techniques used to gather forensic information. Additionally, Dr. Craig describes her experiences while in school to become an anthropologist. During her school days one of the things required of her was to conduct research at the Body Farm in Tennessee. While I absolutely loved this book, it is definitely not for the squeamish!

Seldom do I ever mention the author who wrote the forward for another author’s book, but in this case I will make an exception. Kathy Reichs, a popular fiction writer and real life anthropologist, says she writes about her true life cases through her fictional character Temperance Brennan. Many of you may know the Temperance Brennan character through the TV series Bones (making many of the plot lines based on true events) as well as in her own books.  Kathy Reichs says that “Emily writes about her true life experiences through Emily.” For those of you who may be a bit too squeamish to read the above book, you may want to check out the Kathy Reichs books and/or the TV series Bones.

In addition to the more well known criminal investigations (by police, private investigators, forensics investigators, crime scene investigators, etc), there are also amateur investigators. True Crime Addict by  James Renner, an investigative journalist, is a book about the true disappearance of Maura Murray. Not only does James Renner write about the disappearance of Maura, he is actually trying to solve the missing persons case.

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In the course of his investigation, James has put his research online and has hit upon a hidden resource-armchair sleuths. These internet sleuths are interested in Maura’s disappearance and help to review clues that James posts. James calls this motley crew his “Irregulars” (a throw back to Sherlock Holmes’s “irregular” street kids). The Irregulars form a think tank of sorts and make suggestions to James to consider angles he hasn’t thought of as well as sometimes doing some investigatory work of their own to track down leads. James and the Irregulars have uncovered some rather interesting clues and go down some rabbit holes which lead to no where. To date, this crew has some very plausible theories as to what happened to Maura Murray, but have not solved the case.

As an interesting aside to the above story, James Renner also researched clues while trying to find Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, 2 of the 3 girls kidnapped by Ariel Castro and highlighted in my post on Predators. During the writing of True Crime Addict, Amanda Berry escaped with her child and all of the girls were rescued. Ariel Castro was arrested and James Renner was at the Cleveland hospital where the girls were taken giving the families advice about how to handle the massive press coverage that was about to start. James Renner had to be in court on an unrelated case and seemed to always be in the courtroom a few floors away while Ariel Castro was being tried in another courtroom on the same days at the same times.

Many people who are aware of forensics and crime scene investigation haven’t stopped to think about what happens when investigators leave the scene. On most TV shows  when the body leaves the scene, the plot line usually follows the body itself or some aspect of the investigation. In real life someone has to clean up the death site and/or the crime scene. In the past, grieving families and their friends (who were probably not emotionally up to the task) were left to this grisly task. However, with increasing awareness of how diseases are spread, handling biomatter has become something to take seriously. Aftermath, Inc. : Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home by Gil Reavill discusses why this task is best left to professionals.

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Aftermath, Inc. is a real bioremediation company which you can read about at http://www.aftermath.com/crime-cleanup-services/ . In addition to cleaning up crime scenes, the Aftermath, Inc. company does such things as hoarder cleaning, unattended death clean ups, and industrial accident clean ups among many other services. There are now many such companies, but Aftermath, Inc. is one of the originals and has more experience than most others in the United States.

The book, Aftermath, Inc., is written by true crime writer Gil Reavill and traces this company’s history as well as explains exactly how and why they do the things they do. Even after all the true crime Gil Reavill has written about, he says even he had never stopped to consider what happens once investigators are done gathering their information. When offered an opportunity to job shadow some Aftermath, Inc. employees, Gil jumped right in and learned first hand how to clean up crime scenes. Gil’s first experience was in a hoarder home with a body in a three week decomp state. From there, the author participated in clean ups for mass murders, unattended deaths, and suicides among other situations. According to one of the owners of Aftermath, Inc. if Gil could tolerate a three week decomp and a suicide clean up, he would be able to do anything else required on the job.

I found the book to be very educational and the company to be very respectful to the families they serve. Among the crew members themselves there are sometimes some rather coarse descriptions of things or events, but I believe these are more coping mechanisms to help workers deal with a terrible task-similar to a cop calling a corpse a “stiff.” I was very interested in this subject but again, this book is not for the squeamish!

Have you ever known anyone that needed to use a service similar to Aftermath, Inc? Is this a job you think you could do?

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Law Enforcement and Profiling

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There are many varied and important jobs in law enforcement. In this post I will be highlighting only a few of them. Though there are some bad apples, the majority of men and women serving in law enforcement are deeply devoted to protecting and serving the public.

One (now retired) officer/ FBI agent I have the deepest respect for is Roger L. Depue.

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In the course of his career he literally changed the field of law enforcement as well as took huge numbers of bad guys off the streets. Roger Depue is a former Viet Nam era Marine who began his career in law enforcement  by following in his father’s footsteps serving as a police officer. By the age of 27 (unheard of at the time), Depue was the youngest police chief in his home state of Michigan. At the same time, Depue was pursuing degrees in Psychology and became deeply interested in criminal behavior. It wasn’t long before Depue began working for the FBI and took over as the head of the newborn Behavioral Science Unit. Using psychology to catch the bad guys was a brand new concept in the 1970’s. Fascinated by similarities in certain types of criminals, Depue had a revolutionary idea. He and his team didn’t consider their job complete just by throwing bad guys in jail. Once they were in jail, criminals themselves were interviewed and studied. Depue felt that if similarities among certain classifications of convicts (rapists, serial murderers, kidnappers, etc) could be found that it may help to identify others with a criminal mind set before a crime was committed or that these patterns of behavior could help identify suspects during an investigation. Today we call this method criminology. Depue’s  ideas panned out. In fact, so successful were Depue’s methods that other law enforcement officials around the county were either taught the methods or assisted by other officers who had studied them. The study of criminals then led into what we would recognize today as modern profiling. Depue and his Behavioral Science Unit more or less invented modern profiling. FBI profilers, who were amazingly accurate in their predictions,  helped to take many criminals off the streets and in the course of doing so changed law enforcement practices forever.

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Between Good and Evil by Roger L. Depue is the memoir of his law enforcement career as well as a description of some personal struggles he had in trying not to be overcome by all the pure evil he witnessed on a daily basis. Dealing with violent offenders and serial killers everyday for years takes a toll on those who do it. Depue says he has always been a man of faith and sees no conflict between his faith and the evil he saw each day. However, seeing mostly evil on a daily basis can begin to warp one’s perception. After his retirement from the FBI, Depue started a consulting agency in which he and a team of other retired profilers and law enforcement officers assisted authorities in various ways–by writing profiles, helping with cold cases, writing reports for legal purposes, advising on high profile cases, etc. After doing this type of work for awhile, Depue needed to take some time to get his head straight. He enrolled in a seminary and studied to become a clergyman, trying to bring balance into his life. Depue then went on to work with convicts themselves. He was interested in helping to rehabilitate convicts that could be rehabilitated which he did for awhile. Now, Depue has a private practice and works with at risk kids–kids who can hopefully be turned around before they get into trouble and start on a bad path with the law.

As much good as profiling has done, there has also been some questions about its misuse. For instance are law enforcement agencies using racial profiling? Are white cops targeting black men?  Can black men who feel like they have to constantly look over their shoulders trust white cops?  Are black men targeting white cops? Can police do their jobs if they are constantly second guessed and needing to look over their shoulders? Where do black cops fit into all of this? Is it possible that crime rates are not so much related to race as they are to the disintegrating family unit? This is a very emotional and controversial topic.

The next book, The War On Cops by Heather Mac Donald, is also quite controversial while considering plausible answers to all of the above questions.

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Due to the controversial nature of this book, I will simply quote what Perseus Publisher says to describe this book:

Since the summer of 2014, America has been convulsed with a protest movement known as Black Lives Matter. That movement holds that police officers are among the greatest threats if not the greatest threat facing young black males today. Policing and the rest of the criminal justice system from prosecutors to drug laws single out minority communities for gratuitous and heavy-handed enforcement, the charge goes, resulting in an epidemic of mass incarceration that falls most heavily on blacks.

This book challenges that narrative. Through vivid, street-level reporting, it gives voice to the many residents of high-crime neighborhoods, rarely heard in the media, who support proactive policing and want more of it. The book will argue that there is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that Black Lives Matter than today’s data-driven, accountable police department. In New York City alone, over ten thousand minority males are alive who would have been killed had the New York Police Department not brought homicide in the city down 80% from its early 1990’€™s level. The intelligence-led policing revolution that began in New York and spread nationally has transformed urban neighborhoods, freeing their residents from the thrall of daily fear.

Crime and community requests for assistance, not race, determine police deployment and tactics, the book will explain. But given the demographics of crime, the police cannot go where people are most being victimized without operating disproportionately in minority neighborhoods. That disproportionate police presence increases the risk that when a police-civilian encounter goes tragically awry, it will have a minority victim. But the police could end all lethal use of force justified and unjustified tomorrow, and the black death by homicide rate would barely budge. That death rate six times higher than the homicide victimization rate of whites and Hispanics combined is a function of the black homicide commission rate, which is itself nearly eight times higher than the white and Hispanic homicide commission rates combined. It is such elevated rates of crime, the book will demonstrate, that explain why police focus on urban neighborhoods.

Other topics include such contested tactics as stop, question, and frisk and broken windows policing. It will take the reader inside prisons and jails. It will argue that proactive policing has been the greatest public policy success story of the last quarter century, resulting in a record-breaking national crime drop that no criminologist or even police chief foresaw.

That crime drop is now at risk, however, thanks to the nonstop agitation against the police led by the Black Lives Matter movement. The book will refute the argument that racist drug statutes and enforcement lie behind the black incarceration rate and call for a more honest and informed debate about policing, crime, and race, before the public safety gains of the last twenty years are lost.

While Heather Mac Donald clearly feels that race isn’t the prevailing reason behind high black incarceration rates, the next author does believe that race is a factor in some instances.

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Suspicion Nation :the Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It  by Lisa Bloom explores the controversial trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin. Bloom believes that race should have been discussed in the Zimmerman trial, but was basically dismissed. Zimmerman, who is a white man, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager who was walking home from the store with candy and a drink. Zimmerman, who was on his way to the grocery store, saw Trayvon walking home and thought he was “suspicious.” There had been some reported break ins to homes in the area. The burglar suspects were reported to be black men. Zimmerman called the police to report a suspicious person and then ignored the dispatcher’s comment that Zimmerman wasn’t needed to follow the person. The author clearly believes that racial profiling was at the heart of the Trayvon Martin murder case. By the time police arrived on scene, it was apparent some sort of scuffle had occurred and Trayvon was dead. Zimmerman was later tried and found not guilty of murder by a six person all female jury with only one minority juror. Lisa Bloom explores all the details of the trial in this book and inserts her opinions about the many mistakes she believes occurred. She tries to explain how a white man can shoot an unarmed black teenager and be found not guilty of a crime. Bloom makes it quite clear she thinks the outcome should have been different and that she believes there is a need for stricter gun control laws.

It appears that there is a deep need in this country to get back to the basics and treat people as people, regardless of race. It is my belief after much reading that blacks, whites, and other minorities want fairness, not necessarily a focus on race (even though in some cases race does need to be discussed). What are your ideas of ways to make this happen? How can we get past the emotionalism and anger (from all sides) and improve our justice system?