- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Compare real-life cops, jail and prison to shows like “CSI,” ”NCIS” and “Orange is the New Black,” and police will likely roll their eyes.

In honor of National Forensic Science Week, the Colorado Springs Police Department has debunked some of the top myths of being a crime scene investigator or forensic scientist. The myths were busted by Breanne Hornsby, who spent three years as a crime scene investigator in Florida before joining the metro crime lab here. She works as the quality assurance specialist for the lab, making sure it follows protocols to the T as it goes through an accreditation process.

She wanted to be a crime scene investigator long before such shows became popular, she said, but she pegged “The New Detectives,” a late-1990s and early-2000s series that featured mini documentaries on true crimes, as the most accurate.

“I think a lot of them … are based on reality, but it’s just exaggerated,” she said. “It’s sped up and the technology is exaggerated.”

Hornsby is a civilian investigator, like the rest of the lab personnel at the police department. Unlike investigators on many crime shows, she doesn’t wear a gun or arrest people.

“It actually really is a cool job, but I try to caution the younger generation that’s just now getting into it to go and talk to somebody,” she said.

Sometimes, people come into the lab expecting one thing and stumble upon something completely foreign from what they see on TV, Hornsby said.

Here are some other myths, debunked:

1. MYTH: Forensic scientists can examine all of the evidence in a case and determine exactly how a crime was committed and determine a suspect’s guilt or innocence.

TRUTH: Forensic scientists collect pieces of the puzzle and detectives and investigators put them together. Scientists have different areas of expertise, so they’re typically only working with case information pertaining specifically to the evidence they’ve been asked to analyze. In real life, Abby from “NCIS” wouldn’t do all the work; different areas of the lab sometimes process different pieces of evidence from the same case.

2. MYTH: Forensic scientists make a lot of money, wear suits to scenes and drive Hummers.

TRUTH: “A white suit at a crime scene would likely get dirty in a matter of minutes,” Hornsby wrote. Here, those in the Metro Crime Lab wear black pants and black polo shirts to work. And they’re not rich. Most forensic scientists work for law enforcement agencies and “earn a modest middle-class wage.”

3. MYTH: Crime scene investigators (CSIs) carry guns, question people and make arrests.

TRUTH: Civilian crime scene investigators and forensic scientists, which most departments use, don’t carry guns, question people or make arrests. Crime scene investigators do just what their title says - they go out and process the scene of the crime - but forensic scientists do nearly all their work inside a lab.

4. MYTH: DNA testing can identify a criminal in minutes.

TRUTH: It takes a whole lot longer. The average DNA test takes a week, but it often takes longer because there’s a backlog of DNA that needs testing. Once the DNA is identified, there’s no guarantee it will be linked with a person. Police don’t have a database of the whole world’s DNA at their fingertips. If they can’t get a sample from the person who left the DNA to match it against the evidence they find, it’s possible the person who left the clue will never be identified.

5. MYTH: Forensics can solve every case because there is evidence left behind in every case.

TRUTH: Not every case has a “smoking gun.” Some criminals are smarter than others, and some wear gloves, use bleach, burn a body or toss evidence to avoid being caught.

“Even evidence left behind on a scene may not lead you to the criminal,” Hornsby wrote. “Old-fashioned detective work is an essential part of solving cases and can often find out the ‘who’ before the evidence testing is even completed.”

Police also say fingerprints aren’t always found at a crime scene, and those that are found don’t always lead to an arrest. What’s found is often “small sections of a person’s fingerprint or palm print that are fairly poor quality,” Latent Print Examiner Brian Annen said in a feature Colorado Springs police posted about him on their Facebook page. “The latent prints on the “CSI” shows look almost like a person’s fingerprint would if they had taken it during the booking process.”


Information from: The Gazette, https://www.gazette.com

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