This month we had our biggest Dinner ever, for which we offer huge thanks to Google for making their office available to accommodate our group. Even bigger thanks to Dorothy for her on-site assistance and coffee herd chaperoning. 🙂 And of course thanks to our speakers from the Waterloo Regional Police Service Forensic Identification branch, Detectives Sharon Lloyd and Phil Wicks.
We congregated in the cafeteria for some delicious Taco Farm (thanks, Ryan, for being the delivery person), and then headed upstairs to the Darth Vader room for the presentation. The detectives had both a slide presentation set up as well as some hands-on displays that will figure into events a bit later.
Starting off, Detective Lloyd busted a few myths about police forensics work:
- They don’t find evidence at every crime scene.
- Not all the crimes they investigate are murders.
- They do not solve all their crimes in one hour.
- They do not have their own lab with high-tech equipment.
Oh, and they don’t actually look or dress like the people in CSI on tv…
The Forensic Identification branch at WRPS consists of:
- 1 Staff Sargeant
- 5 Sargeants
- 10 Detective Constables
- 4 Lab Techs
- 2 APFIS Operators
- 1 Secretary.
Officers are divided among five platoons.
The main work the Forensic branch is involved in is:
- fingerprinting offenders
- attending crime scenes
- processing evidence
- identifying fingerprints, footwear, and tire impressions
- testifying in court
- writing lots and lots of reports.
Fingerprinting work takes up a great deal of time. Fingerprint identification goes on six days a week, seven hours a day. Fingerprints are submitted to the APFIS/RCMP Databank for storage and identification purposes.
Civilians get fingerprinted, too. WRPS offers this service five days a week, and every third Saturday each month by appointment. Civilians get fingerprinted for things like background checks when they want to volunteer with community organizations.
This is where Forensics spends most of their investigation time. The main offences investigated are:
- break, enter, and thefts
- stolen vehicles
- assaults and domestic assaults
- dusting for fingerprints
- examination for footwear/tool impressions
- examination and collection of DNA
- collection of exhibits (physical evidence).
- attempted murder
- sexual assault
- aggravated assault
- suspicious death
- natural or man-made disasters.
- crime scene management – warrants
- items drunk or eaten from
- trace evidence
- blood spatter development and analysis
- behaves according to the laws of physics
- blood conforms to the laws of ballistics when in a liquid state and in motion
- size of a projected bloodstain has a direct relationship to the speed at which it’s travelling (small drops move much faster than large ones)
- shape of a bloodstain tells you the direction it was moving (bloodstain will always point in the direction the drop was moving)
- bloodstain patterns are predictable and reproducible
Evidence collection at the crime scenes for crimes like those listed above includes:
For example, a suspect drank a beer during a break-in and left the beer bottle at the scene. The bottle could be a source of both DNA and fingerprint evidence. Methods of processing fingerprints include dusting using various brushes and powders (depending on the colour, texture, and other characteristics of the surface), glue fuming, and chemical treatment of paper.
Footwear impressions can be taken from a various of surfaces, including snow, dirt, or indoor flooring. Footprints are measured and photographed carefully, and sometimes impressions can be taken (e.g. with dental stone). Almost all footwear with any wear gets worn in unique ways. Uneven wear, nicks in the tread, etc.
Tire impressions are processed similarly to footwear impressions. They’re essentially like the footprints for a vehicle. Like footwear, tire treads get worn in unique ways, and impressions can be taken from dirt, snow, sometimes the road, etc. Tire impressions like skid marks can also be valuable evidence for the Traffic branch in investigations of accidents and other offences.
The Forensics branch is also involved in creating composite sketches of offenders, as well as assembling lineup photos for witnesses to view. There is a certain art to getting a selection of offenders who look just similar enough, but not identical. All lineup photos come from previously booked offenders.
The types of major cases Forensics works on include:
Forensic examination of major crimes includes a variety of actions, including:
- in addition to collecting evidence, carefully preserving it is important
- preventing contamination is key
- proving continuity (where the evidence has been, how it’s been handled, and who has had access to it) is also critical
- all items must be dried before being packaged (if DNA is not properly dried and packaged it will be destroyed)
- DNA profiling
- bloodstain pattern interpretation
- hair and fibre analysis
- fire debris
- gum and resins
- tar and asphalt
- gunshot residue
- soils and minerals
- soap and detergent
- documents and photoanalysis
- making physical comparisons
- deciphering obliterations of documents
- enhancing images from videotapes and photographs
- determining the authenticity of photographs or documents
One of the major role of the Forensics branch at crime scenes is just to control access and prevent contamination of the scene as much as possible until it can be processed.
The Forensics branch works closely with the Centre for Forensic Science in Toronto. Most of the analysis takes place there. For example:
- test firing
- comparison of bullets and firearms
- testing for drugs and alcohol
- important information relating to sexual assaults and impaired driving cases
- case histories – suicide or murder.
It bears repeating that evidence processing and handling is critical in criminal investigations. As one slide noted: lose your evidence, lose your case. That can include physically losing evidence as well and having it be contaminated.
As aforementioned, the Forensics branch contributes to and searches the national DNA Data Bank. In Canada, taking a DNA sample of the convicted offender is ordered upon conviction. (In the UK it’s taken when someone is arrested.) Each DNA profile is uploaded to the DNA Data Bank for future searches and comparison. DNA is also profiled from unknown samples at crimes scenes, which can provide matches to other crimes later. The “hits” can be either to a person or a crime scene.
And that took us to the end of the formal presentation. There were a variety of anecdotes and additional comments presented in each section, but unfortunately I had to leave a bit early so didn’t catch them all.
At this point, the detectives put on a demonstration with a couple of young volunteers from the audience. They got dressed in Tyvek suits, latex gloves, and masks to prevent contaminating evidence, and then dusted a wine bottle for prints (success!) and some paper with magnetic dust. No word on if the evidence led to a conviction or not. 🙂
After that there was a bit of Q&A, and then the festivities wrapped up. A bit late for some of our younger attendees, but I think everyone had an engaging time. Many thanks again to Detectives Lloyd and Wicks for joining us and giving us a look at how crimes are really investigated and how different branches of the police service work together.
Our next Dinner will taking place in January, when Cari Rastas Howard from the Region of Waterloo’s Waste Management department will be joining us to talk about the technologies behind how waste is handled nowadays, and some of the futuristically cool ways being developed to manage it in the future. (Lasers are involved, seriously.) Stay tuned for more info on location and the official announcement, coming soon!