On television police dramas, crimes are solved in one-hour time slots using high-tech gadgetry which has access to unbelievable — literally unbelievable — information sites. In the real world, that’s not quite how it works.
The Sulphur Police Department is in the process of moving it’s operations into its new building, and one of those offices is the Crime Scene ID Division. This is where evidence collected from major crime scenes is brought for packaging and processing.
The division is brought to a scene at the request of an officer to collect evidence on unnatural deaths, whether homicide or suicide, all rapes, most maiming complaints, armed robbery, and all business robberies. Sometimes they are also called to assist in traffic fatalities.
Capt. Jason Gully and Evidence Technician Natalie Hansen make up the division, having transferred from Patrol and Dispatch, respectively, in March of 2012. The partners share an office with a connecting storage area used for evidence. Though they work regular hours from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., each takes a week at a time being on 24-hour call. Gully said that it’s not unusual to get called in at 4:30 in the afternoon or 2 a.m.. It all comes with the job.
According to Gully, the start of a typical work day involves retrieving evidence from a locker in the police squad room that may have come in the night before. After comparing the officer’s evidence sheet to the evidence submitted, it’s then time to log everything into a computer. Once logged in, evidence is then prepared to be sent to the Crime Lab in Lake Charles, maintaining a chain of evidence log on which anyone handling the evidence must sign off. Not all evidence is sent to Lake Charles for processing however.
“If it’s an arson case or we need anything done with a firearm other than fingerprinting, those we take to the State Police Crime Lab in Baton Rouge,” said Gully.
Hansen and Gully both continually monitor cases to find out if they are still open or have been closed. “If closed, the District Attorney’s Office dictates what we do with evidence,” said Hansen. “Guns that can’t be traced back to their owners and have been used to commit a crime are destroyed after the case is solved. Guns that can be traced back to the original owners are returned, and other items may be either burned or shredded.”
Gully said one of the biggest obstacles to returning stolen items to their owners is the absence of a recorded serial number — so write them down he advised.
The other portion of their jobs revolve around collecting and preserving evidence when a crime has been committed. Gully said, “When we get on scene, we get in touch with the detective to give us a quick overview of what took place, what they need pictures of, or what needs to be processed for evidence, such as fingerprints.”
Like a doctor carrying a medical bag, Gully and Hansen each carry a fully-stocked evidence kit with them at all times. The kit includes tools such as disposable tweezers, gloves, swabs, brushes, head lamps, and fingerprint kits. As for lifting fingerprints, Hansen said that just a small amount of black dust is needed to raise a fingerprint, using too much can actually destroy a good sample. And the new gel and hinge lifters have made that job much easier by doing away with unwieldy fingerprint tape.
The officers have found their niche in the department and enjoy the time they spend doing their part to solve crimes.
“When we get a hit on DNA or fingerprints and we know that what we did just solved this case, that’s rewarding,” said Hansen.
“We’re here to help the victims,” Gully said. “We want to arrest whoever hurt that person and have them face justice. Whether it’s their fingerprints that were lifted off a scene or DNA that came back to them — we want to help get closure for that victim.”
Sulphur Police Chief Lewis Coats has said that a ribbon cutting will be held soon to make the move into the new building official.