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Indian Peafowl Feathers. Credit: USFWS

Students and Educators

CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION: The Real Deal

The popularity of the TV CSI shows has caused a considerable portion of the US population (not to mention the citizens of many other countries!) to become deeply — and even emotionally — interested in the investigation of crime scenes and the processing of physical evidence.

This is arguably a good thing.

But while this enhanced interest is certainly desirable in the sense of getting taxpayers to vote for increases in CSI and forensic programs, the professional crime scene investigators and forensic scientists who work crime scenes and analyze evidence for a living tend to have a less favorable impression of the TV shows.

That’s because the shows do not accurately depict the work of the people involved.

Crime Scene Tape
Crime Scene Do Not Cross Tape. Credit: istockphoto.com

If you’ve watched the CSI shows on TV (let’s take the Las-Vegas-based show for example), you’ve seen the character Gil Grissom and his CSI team responding to crime scenes, setting up scene perimeters, searching for evidence, documenting and collecting that evidence, interrogating suspects, analyzing the collected evidence (very quickly), and otherwise actively engaged in hunting down the perpetrator of the crime. All very fast paced and exciting, to be sure; but reality at a real crime scene is a bit different.

First of all, Grissom and his cohorts are all portrayed as a composite of three character-types you might find at a crime scene: a crime scene investigator, a forensic scientist and a detective.

So before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at those three characters.

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