Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Will the Real Gil Grissom Please Stand Up?

In the absence of an appreciation for human life and/or a well-calibrated moral compass, the marvels of modern forensic science should definitely be enough to give a would-be "bad guy" a reason to take pause.

Last night, Mechanic Bob and I attended a presentation on one of the practical applications of forensic science: Crime Scene Investigation. Both Mechanic Bob and I got our introduction to "forensic science" in front of our respective boob tubes, watching episode of "CSI." During our careful study of the Hollywood-ified version of crime scene investigations, we saw well-coifed men and women collect evidence, haul it off to a lab, and eventually, "help" catch bad guys.

Whatever our motivation, natural curiosity or a desire to more deeply understand our favorite TV show, Mechanic Bob and I took a trip to the University (and down memory lane for me) to hear a REAL crime scene investigator speak about his craft.

CSI James has been working with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension since 1999. He majored in chemistry, thinking he would like to be a teacher, then eventually decided to pursue his master's. He worked in some labs for a while, then one day saw an ad for a job as a forensic scientist. He applied twice and was rejected twice. Then he attended a seminar presented by a leader of the MBCA and introduced himself. The men had lunch and "Prominent Man" gave CSI James some helpful feedback for his next interview. The rest is history.

CSI James is a specialist in "trace evidence" - that's the teeny, tiny stuff that can't been seen by the naked eye. He also is well studied in a number of other areas.

He said the crime scene teams (of as many as 25 qualified people) collect evidence and take it back to their lab for processing. He said about 100 people work in the lab.

Usually one scientist who is the leader of the team works directly with law enforcement to make sense of whatever happened.

CSIs are an impartial body, he said, whose job is just to analyze the evidence. The lawyers must use the evidence that they find to prove or disprove a case.

Besides learning all kinds of fascinating things (like the MBCA has about 6,000 firearms on file and burn patterns can help CSIs determine the source of a fire) I learned that the TV show isn't all that much like real life CSI - although I think it captures the best parts!

Afterward, Mechanic Bob pointed out that "forensics" is a word that is popping up in a lot of fields: there are "forensic accountants" for example, who investigate fraud and testify in court about their findings; or people who investigate computer hard drives - computer forensic experts.

Mechanic Bob thought perhaps he might be able to bring his own brand of expertise to a crime scene investigation as a "forensic mechanic." I think the position I am best suited for is one I currently hold: armchair forensic scientist.