Television and films often glamorize and exaggerate criminal investigator processes and tools. While investigators in the real world may not be Batman, they do have a number of tools, both low-tech and high-tech, at their disposal. Their duties begin with the evidence at hand on the crime scene; and together with intelligence, investigators routinely build a case using their wits and resources.
The process begins with an evidence book. A paper and digital trail of evidence is collected and is subjected to forensic treatment. Investigators may need footage from security cameras at the scene of the crime and the surrounding businesses. In a white collar crime, investigators obtain consent from the victim to create documentation, which may be needed from financial or government institutions in which the crime occurred. A timeline is established and a cast of characters is documented, including all victims, potential suspects, locations and businesses involved.
A forensic technique developed in England allows investigators to fingerprint bullets using an electrical charge to detect metal where it was corroded by finger sweat. Forensics can detect "fingerprints" in a person's brain by recording the brain's response to stimulation. Brain fingerprinting allows detectives to determine if a person has knowledge of an event. Other tools include three-dimensional fingerprint enhancing, which renders a three-dimensional recreation of fingerprints; spherical photography creates a photorealistic image of crime scenes using a 360-degree camera equipped with a fish-eye lens and High Dynamic Range imaging. One such tool is the ultra-high speed Leica ScanStation, which allows for comprehensive and true three-dimensional capture of a crime scene up to an entire neighborhood block.
Digital Investigation Tools
Investigators know that ordinary consumer devices can be transformed into data storage devices that perform completely different functions than intended to. The Xbox 360, for instance, can become a fully-functional computer with a few modifications. To this end, investigators use access-control devices such as key fobs, keypads, smart cards and biometric sensing devices to determine the presence of an individual and monitor patterns of malicious activity.
Audio Investigation Tools
A seizure of property in a criminal case may yield audio recordings that need to be further analyzed or even enhanced. Investigators use audio tools that allow them to enhance a recording to make it more intelligible, reduce background noise, identify the source, determine if it has been altered, and convert the recording to another format. The tools needed depend on the type of examinations. Commonly used equipment include software, hardware and signal-processing equipment that can be found at retail or professional recording stores. However, extensive computer training is needed to operate such devices.
- International Association of Chiefs of Police: Investigative Steps
- U.S. Department of Justice: National Institute of Justice: Investigative Uses of Technology - Devices, Tools and Techniques
- Criminal Justice Schools: 8 Cutting-Edge Crime Scene Investigation Tools
- Leica Geosystems: Leica ScanStation P20
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.