Episode 7: The “Real CSI” and Forensic Analysis at the Crime Lab (pt. 2)

Description: Crime Lab Director Chip Pollock talks about criminalists (their education, training, experience), responsibilities criminalists have outside the lab, the lab’s state-of-the-art equipment and how it is used, how real the Hollywood version of CSI and forensic science is to true life, how those interested in the field can start on that path and the Crime Lab Youth Shadow Day.

Show Notes:  Chip explains how criminalists are assigned to various sections of the lab, and often cross train in the different sections.  This allows them to be flexible in the work they can perform, cover areas when needed as well as add to their training, experience and knowledge.  There is a training program they go through along with a competency test, mock case and mock trial.

Aside from science and analysis work, criminalists provide outside training and crime scene workshops for law enforcement agencies.  They also train deputy district attorneys on aspects of forensic science to give them a better understanding of how forensic analysis is conducted and understand some of the science behind it.  Criminalists also often testify in court.

The lab is known for having state-of-the-art equipment, including a machine that performs elemental analysis of glass.  This allows criminalists to compare glass and glass fragments to determine if the elemental composition is indistinguishable from one another or if they came from the same manufacturer with the same chemical and physical composition.  It’s the only lab in the western Unites States and one of about 12 labs nationwide with this equipment and expertise.  This equipment was used in a 2003 double-murder case in Galt.  The suspect used a bat to smash in the victims’ sliding glass door.  Fragments of glass taken from the bat were compared to the glass sliding door, which was a match.

Another equipment example is the Crime Scene Unit’s 3-D laser scanner, which scans a crime scene using a high-speed whirling laser that measures points of distance.  A digital camera then photographs the crime scene and stitches the photos together with the measurements.  This technology documents and essentially freezes the crime scene in time.  This equipment was used in the 2012 murder case of 13-year-old Jessica Funk-Haslam who was found in a baseball field in Rosemont.

Some of the Hollywood version of CSI is true to life, just accelerated and more dramatic.  The real CSI can never get a case done between two commercials, and criminalists are not investigators – they work behind the scenes.

For those interested in forensic science, it will require a degree in the science field (chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry), and California requires additional chemistry courses.  Chip recommends doing an internship as well.  The District Attorney’s Crime Lab has college and graduate internships.  The Crime Lab also held a successful Youth Shadow Day that gives students a hands-on experience/idea of what’s it like to be a criminalist.

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Tags: District Attorney, Cold Cases, Cold Case Prosecutions, DNA, DNA Evidence, DNA Hit, Forensic Science, True Crime, Justice Journal, Trace Evidence, Crime Lab, Crime Scene Investigation, CSI