FBI Citizens’ Academy – Week 4

Week #4: Media Relations and ERT (Evidence Response Team)

Last week was a hands-on class. It started with a quick bit about media relations which didn’t yield too much interest. This was likely a tie-in to the media being invited out to make a quick story about the class. One point to note is that the FBI can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an active investigation. I thought that was sort of weird, but I guess they don’t want to tip any hands as to what they may be sniffing around on.

The remainder of the night was spent broken into four groups to check out four different aspects of the ERT (Evidence Response Team). The ERT is called out to any crime scene that is of interest to the FBI or when requested by other agencies (think local smaller police forces that are dealing with a high-profile incident like a child missing or something of that caliber). This is basically, by their own apprehensive admission, their “CSI” aspect of the FBI. For our hand-on tour, we went into a completely new building at their complex (I knew there was a separate parking garage, but had no idea there was another building behind the huge main building). This is more of an active or working type of building that’s made to get dirty, so to speak. It has vehicle bays and evidence processing rooms among other rooms. The main building isn’t made to get “dirty.” It’s offices and computers and such…office and paperwork. This side building is where folks come in with mud on their boots.

My group started in the lab that showed UV light use. There’s a fancy name for it that’s slipping my mind right now. It’s basically using a very powerful blacklight to shine onto objects to see things that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. An example was given of a blank white wall. Nothing there to your eye. Shine a blacklight on it and look through a special scope (sort of like NVG, but not–the screen just looked green-tinted like NVG), and you now see finger prints made solely from just the oils on your skin (nothing special was added to the fingerprints). This helps greatly cut down on the time spent combing a room for finger prints. It can also be used to find a wide array of other items including bone fragments in a field or bodily fluids on various materials.

The second demonstration was more material “phosphorescing” (making materials glow by use of chemicals or light). The first example was two vehicle floor mats, both black, both looked perfectly clean to the naked eye. The lights were turned out and some chemical was sprayed onto them one at a time. One of them did nothing. The other started glowing like a light stick had been broken open on it. We were seeing synthetic blood splatters (the blood itself was fake, but still acted like real blood). Next were some floor tiles that were covered in something that looked like blood. They used a cotton swab to gather a small sample of it, added some chemicals to it and it would either do nothing or change color to a bright vibrant fluorescent pink if it was blood (again, synthetic blood). Last for this demonstration was the scent gatherer. It looked basically like a dust buster that has a large piece of gauze stuffed into it. You use it to “sniff” materials that are believed to have come into contact with a person you’re looking for. The piece of gauze can be stored for a while and given to blood hounds later to track the same person.

The third demo was photography and bullet trajectory analysis. They started with a couple piece of drywall wall sections that had simulated bullet holes in them. A piece of fiberglass rod (like what you use to assemble a tent with) was stuck into the bullet holes with a laser attached to the end of the rod. The laser would now be pointing in the direction of where the bullet was fired from. A camera was set up on a tripod with a remote shutter release so that it could do a “bulb” exposure (the shutter stays open as long as you held the button down). The lights were turned off and the technician used a can of fog spray to illuminate the laser light paths. At the end, with the shutter still open, he hit the room with one flash of the flash. The lights came back on and we watched the image come up on the attached large flat screen TV. You could see the room…looked like a dark room that had a flash go off inside…but you could also see the entire length of the laser line. Think of how a movie makes a laser trip line look inside of a vault or bank or something. Next he showed what to do if you’re out of fog spray; simply turn the lights off, open the shutter for a bulb exposure, and walk a piece of paper within the laser beam the entire length. Hit the room again with a flash, and wah-lah, you have the some type of photo…actually a little better than the spray if you ask me. Lastly, we were showed how they make a virtual room type of photo…you know the type that you see a lot in home sales weblistings. They’re typically in Quicktime format and you can pan 360 degrees left and right and up and down as well as zoom in. It’s a small lens that allows the camera to see 180 degrees left/right and up/down. He does 6 pictures of the room at equal intervals, slaps the memory card into the laptop, let a program stitch it together and export it, and there you have it. I forget the name of the software, but it’s commercially available and costs about $200. He said the lens was the kicker in costing about $800-$1000. Plus, of course, the camera (needs to be a “full frame” DSLR).

Lastly we saw fingerprint techniques. Nothing really surprising here, but still cool to put some hands on with the gear and techniques. Of course we all did our own prints and watched them lift a print using super glue fumes in a vented hood. Just like on TV (surprisingly), you can heat super glue in the same controlled space as a material with prints on it. The fumes stick to the prints only and basically make a mold of the print…nearly indestructible.


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