- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Kimberly C. Dunn works in a world where crime and science intersect. Miss Dunn, a forensic specialist for the Montgomery County Police Department, uses high-tech tools and razor-sharp reasoning to help detectives solve rapes, murders, burglaries and other crimes.

As a crime-scene investigator, she deals routinely with dead bodies, murder weapons and blood.

A door in her office is labeled “Blood Drying Room.” It is near some cabinets labeled “Fingerprint Lifting Tape” and “Thief Powder.”

But “CSI: Rockville” does not have the drama of popular TV shows.

“In real life, it’s a very slow, methodical process. On ‘CSI,’ they solve a crime in an hour. They get to kick in doors and interrogate people. No such luck here,” Miss Dunn said.

She usually works one of two shifts: weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or weekdays from 3 to 11 p.m.

Even when they have no new crime scenes to investigate, Miss Dunn and her colleagues stay busy doing paperwork, dusting confiscated guns for fingerprints or collecting pictures of evidence.

When a major crime occurs in Montgomery County, Miss Dunn and her colleagues race to the scene to collect evidence.

“It’s a lot like firefighting. There are bursts of excitement followed by long stretches of boredom,” she said.

Miss Dunn is thankful the job has not left her jaded.

“When you stand next to a dead person, you know they are not there anymore. The body is a shell. Their spirit has gone on, hopefully to a better place. It’s something you can’t understand until you’ve experienced it,” she said.

On a recent Wednesday, Miss Dunn leaves her home in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., at about 6 a.m. She arrives at her office in the department’s Rockville headquarters about one hour later and begins some paperwork.

Later, she pulls some of the guns out of the evidence storage room and dusts them for fingerprints. For each box she pulls off the shelf, she must complete a “chain of evidence” form.

Each gun is kept in a cardboard box that has been sealed by the officer who seized it. Miss Dunn carries the box into the evidence processing room, where she unseals it and cuts the plastic cable that keeps the gun in place.

Wearing rubber gloves, Miss Dunn dusts each gun with a powder that will be used to identify any fingerprints. Next, she sprays a fine mist of melted-glue fumes over the gun until the fingerprints appear.

Miss Dunn places tape over the fingerprint, then lifts the tape and places it on a blank form. On the back of the form, she draws a picture of the gun and marks an “X” to indicate where she lifted the fingerprint.

“I don’t like working with guns. They are a pain because there are so many of them,” Miss Dunn says, her eyes fixed on the form she is completing.

The rest of Miss Dunn’s day will be spent on similar tasks. At one point, she is told of a burglary scene the police are investigating, but one of her colleagues is assigned to that case.

Every Montgomery County police officer is trained to do basic forensic work, such as collecting and labeling evidence and dusting for fingerprints. Miss Dunn and her colleagues focus on major crimes, such as murders and burglaries.

“You never get tired of this,” she said, holding the silver badge that hangs around her neck. “You never get tired of seeing it on your dresser in the morning. You never get tired of being the one to walk under that police tape at a crime scene.”

Miss Dunn is a plainspoken woman with a bright smile. She wears a dark-blue police uniform, a belt that holds a pocketknife and tall black boots. These days, she also totes a bottle of ginger ale as she tries to wean herself off caffeine.

Miss Dunn’s parents worked for the State Department, so she moved around before the family settled in Virginia. She attended Northern Virginia Community College, Mississippi State University and George Washington University, where she received a master’s degree in molecular biology.

Growing up, Miss Dunn liked science. When she decided to work in criminal forensics, she committed her life to it.

She spent four years volunteering in the Virginia State Police’s crime lab while she attended George Washington University. She helped make ends meet by bartending and doing office work.

Before she came to work for the Montgomery County Police Department about three years ago, she collected a book full of rejection letters from other police departments. Jobs in her field are hard to come by, she said.

In her off hours, Miss Dunn spends time with her fiance, a Montgomery County homicide detective. She also teaches a pathology class at Northern Virginia Community College, one of several criminology courses that have filled up since the “CSI” shows became popular.

Miss Dunn tells her students the shows bear only a passing resemblance to reality. The work, although not always exciting, is always serious, she said.

“If you work hard and learn the science, you can do amazing things. You have such power in your hands. We put people in jail or, in some cases, we get them out of jail. It’s not something to take lightly,” she said.

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