When someone commits a crime, they leave clues behind. Fingerprints, hair follicals, shoe impressions: these aren’t just flashy inventions for television—they’re the first things officers in the Rhinelander Police Department look for when responding to a crime.
Though not as glamorous as the show, Rhinelander does in fact have its own crime scene investigators, and many of the basic CSI techniques seen on TV are performed by them regularly. Fingerprinting, crime scene photos, even making casts of shoeprints.
Mostly the Rhinelander Police Department performs these duties when dealing with theft, but the unit is fully trained and equipped to deal with any situation that requires crime scene expertise.
The first thing an officer does when analyzing a scene is look for signs of approach. Footprints, tire-tracks, anything that shows how the perpetrator came onto the scene. Next is means of entry. Broken glass will often have traces of blood or hair and skin. Broken doors can have tool marks that can be analyzed.
Inside, officers are looking for fingerprints, DNA evidence, anything that can give them a lead. Throughout the whole process, they are photographing everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.
“You can never take too many photos,” said Brian Columbino, one of the certified lab technicians with the department. “You want to look at everything.”
One of the most important parts of collecting evidence is the chain of custody. Countless cases have been thrown out of court due to careless handling of evidence or poor lab practices. That’s why police are hyper-vigilant about protecting crime scenes, labeling and maintaing evidence storage, and doing things by the book.
It’s a tough job, one that requires a lot of extra training and exhaustive measures. Columbino said while collecting evidence he may take hundreds of pictures, dust entire rooms for prints, and collect bags upon bags of evidence. Unfortunately, it’s also a job that doesn’t always prove fruitful.
“You’re always building your case,” Columbino said. “But you might put your heart and soul into it… there are times you just don’t develop a suspect.”
The last tip Columbino had when dealing with crime scenes is this: “Always be mindful of your environment.” And that doesn’t just go for police. It’s important for civilians too, Columbino said. If you walk up to your house and the door is standing open, don’t go rushing in. Call the police, and be mindful of your surroundings. You never know what evidence has been left behind.