Dispatches from Citizen’s Police Academy

From left, CSI specialists Kirsten Hernandez and Heather Mead, with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, pose outside a specialty van that carries much of their needed investigative gear to crime scenes. Evidence gathered from scenes is catalogued, and then transported back to the lab for additional chemical processing.

Debbie Wolfe will report from each session of the 2017 Gulfport Citizen’s Police Academy. This is part six of 11.

CSI television shows are nothing like what we do,” said CSI Specialist Heather Mead of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. And, she should know. She’s a field-training officer, works on the major case response team and has been with the office for 16 years.

Academy participants had the opportunity to don protective gloves and use specialty magnetic brushes to dust for fingerprints on paper cards or plastic water bottles on the field trip Thursday, February 23. From left, Gulfport residents Rexee Craig and her mother Linda Craig follow their training and slowly twirl their black carbon-based, power-filled brushes while gently touching their pieces of paper to reveal training prints belonging to the CSI specialists leading the field trip.

She and other local specialists work major crime scenes such as those related to rape, murder and stabbings using digital cameras, tweezers, plaster-like casting material, fingerprint dusting power and specialty lights to locate hairs, fibers, footprints, fingerprints, DNA and body fluids as evidence.

Nike slide sandals are good sources of DNA best because people run out of them all the time,” said Mead.

Their shifts are long and crime scene working conditions can be hot, said CSI Specialist Kirsten Hernandez. “We wear black, we sweat and we get fingerprint powder all over our clothes and skin. I used to wear makeup, but now I don’t because of the black powder. I’m washing my face all the time.”

Specialists also use a $100,000 specialty Leica brand 3-D, 360-degree crime scene scanning camera that takes two people to operate because it’s so heavy. The office acquired the gear thanks to a grant, said Mead.

A demonstration video from the laser camera filmed locally showed academy participants how the land-based, tri-pod mounted specialty camera can give a high-angle, full-circle and “fly through” detailed view of a major crime scene even at night.

According to the Leica website, images taken by the camera allow legal staff to take courtroom jurors inside crime scenes so they can see evidence for themselves.

To get an idea of how the specialty camera works, view a short demonstration video here.

During a field trip to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) offices and labs Thursday, February 23, the Gabber’s Debbie Wolfe wears special orange-filtered goggles that enable more detailed viewing of evidence like fibers and fingerprints on items after they have been treated with chemical processing. Sample training posters show how blood splatters can reveal situations like a void where an object such as a round-based table lamp have been. At crime scenes, shapes of footprints or weapons such as a knife or screwdriver are often transferred onto floors or fabrics like bed sheets, said CSI Specialist Heather Mead. She is a field-training officer, works on the major case response team and has been with the office for 16 years.



CSI Specialist Kristen Hernandez with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office holds training posters that show chemical processing and photographic enlargement can help reveal fingerprints on items such as money and milk cartons.

Evidence obtained by law enforcement officers and specialists is stored in two warehouses and one vault totaling 42,500 square feet all maintained by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Andy McEntegart, a supervisor in the Property and Evidence Division, explains that drugs and firearms are kept in special air-conditioned areas to minimize deterioration and rust over time. Personal items from victims, such as those involved in vehicle crashes, can also be safely stored at the facility for up to 60 days. Even though certain types of items may be sold, recycled or destroyed over time according to storage timeline procedures or court order, “The main building is nearly full,” he said. He explained that inventory auditing is continuous and that all items are checked each year. The oldest case where related evidence is still in storage dates back to an unsolved homicide from 1955, he said.

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