Criminals Get Tips from Forensic Television Shows

By Greenwood, Jill King | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 25, 2006 | Go to article overview

Criminals Get Tips from Forensic Television Shows


Greenwood, Jill King, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Nationwide, the number of rape cases going unsolved by police is increasing, and experts blame it on the "CSI effect," theorizing that rapists are gleaning clues from forensic television shows about how evidence left behind at crime scenes can lead to an arrest.

"These suspects are very cognizant about what they're doing and what evidence they're leaving behind," said Pittsburgh police Sgt. Paul McComb, a 26-year veteran who heads the bureau's mobile crime unit. "They know, because of all of these television shows, what can be tied to them. Most of them are already very cunning, but CSI and other shows show them how to be better. It's frustrating as an investigator.

"When the secrets get out about how we solve crimes, the criminals change their habits."

The experts agree.

According to the FBI, police nationwide cracked 41.3 percent of rape cases in 2005, down from 46.9 percent in 2000, the year of CSI's debut on CBS, and 51.3 percent a decade ago.

"They're making their victims shower or bathe," said former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. "It gives the criminal with any common sense pause to think 'Hey, there's a way to cover my trail or conceal my DNA.' "

Over the years, McComb has heard stories from victims about the steps their attackers took in an effort to eliminate evidence.

One rape victim was forced to clean herself with bleach after the assault.

Others said their attackers wore gloves and condoms or made them urinate and shower after the rapes.

Earlier this year, a suspect being questioned about two rapes refused to submit to investigators' requests for fingerprints, hair, saliva and blood samples. He knew, McComb said, that evidence from a rape scene could be tied to him through DNA and investigators would need a warrant to get the samples they wanted.

The clearance-rate drop nationwide and in Pennsylvania doesn't hold true in Pittsburgh. …

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