My step signature project was an internship with the Grand Rapids Police Department’s Forensic Service Unit. As an intern I mostly rode along with professional crime scene technicians and learned techniques and methods they use to find, document, and preserve evidence. I also helped collect evidence on real crime scenes including: bullet casings, projectiles, and fingerprints.
I think the biggest transformation was my understanding of what a CST does daily. I really had no idea what to expect from the internship because I had really no idea what CST’s did besides that it wasn’t the same as what they do on TV shows like CSI, and that was my favorite thing about the internship was finally learning straight from the source what CST’s do. My view of the world didn’t really change except in terms of crime and crime prevention: actually working crime scenes and with the men and women who investigate them gave me a unique perspective on crime and criminals
CST’s must document everything they find at a scene be it with pictures, notes or even hand drawn diagrams. In a few crime scenes I went to, we found bullet casings, and then, when you find a bullet casing, you must place evidence markers near it, photograph it from far away, photograph it up close, bag it, tag it, and then describe in your report what kind of casing it is as well as brand and where you found it. This all makes sense from a clerical perspective but it also means we can and did spend hours at a scene where only 3 shots were fired, because once you finish with the casings you have to repeat the process with the projectiles. I was not expecting this and it changed my perspective on what is pretty much the number one thing I want to get into.
Fingerprints are also the most useful piece of evidence we collected from scenes. We of course collected DNA samples however these were seldom used because of how expensive it is to run a DNA test. Real life evidence collection is nothing like TV because a majority of the crime scenes we were called to were breaking and entering (B&E) or vehicle larceny; there was not a homicide every week like on CSI or Bones. We would dust the area for prints but seldom found more than one or two usable prints; in fact, most crimes we were called to most likely went unsolved despite the fact that we had 2 of the best latent print examiners in Michigan working in the forensics unit. It is a little disheartening knowing that you won’t solve every case, but I feel like this is actually vital knowledge to have before getting into the field.
Gun related crime scenes were the next most common I would go to; however, the only scene I went to where another person was shot was one where a man accidentally shot himself; it was mostly people shooting at houses. There were only 2 homicides while I was in Grand Rapids, a city of 200,000, during the summer, when crime rates are generally higher. I learned that violent crime in large cities is actually way less than it is made out to be. It’s mostly petty (though still felonious) things like smashing car windows or breaking into homes and businesses. One case stands out in particular that really changed my perception of crime: a B&E of a construction site where the thief used a forklift to break open a large tool box only to steal a hammer and some screwdrivers. It’s impossible to know why they did this, however it shows crime is much less violent and exciting than it is portrayed on TV and probably for good reason: someone stealing a hammer and some screwdrivers would not make for a particularly exciting TV show.
It might be easier to ask how this is was not an important experience for me, because this is the job I want when I leave school. Getting exposed to the people and work in the field you are interested in is important for any one. I learned valuable skills that will assist me when I get a job in the field of forensics; also, I cultivated relationships with important individuals in the field, particularly in Grand Rapids. This is important because it is incredibly valuable to have contacts in the field you are interested in. These are people I can contact in the future, and people who can help point me in a direction that would help me fulfill my career goals.