Crime Scenes & Rape Investigations

By Albrecht, Steve | Law & Order, November 2000 | Go to article overview

Crime Scenes & Rape Investigations


Albrecht, Steve, Law & Order


It's common for people in and around law enforcement to steel themselves against even the most sadistic of sex crimes in adults. We cling to a hope that adult victims will somehow be able to put their painful event into some kind of context; that is, to be able to say, "As horrible as this was, some day I will start to feel normal again." With counseling and support from others, including the criminal justice system, we try to believe these people will learn how to cope.

But, it's hard to make that same argument for young children who don't understand why adults do these things to them. Most children have no grasp of the rather abstract concept of time. Today is the same as yesterday, and tomorrow is the same as next month or next year. It's nearly impossible to tell a sexually assaulted child, "You'll feel better about this later," because they don't know when "later" will arrive for them.

As all patrol cops and detectives can attest, the best time to catch any crook is immediately following the commission of his crime. The "wanted" clock begins ticking as soon as the act has been completed and doesn't stop until he is safely captured in the back seat of a police car. While it's true for all crimes, homicides, rapes, shootings and robberies lead the list of capers that demand a hard combination of both police officer speed and police department accuracy. The longer the wait between crime and arrest, the more problems to be faced with either catching the true culprit or making the charges stick.

Getting to a crime scene quickly is not nearly as important as is knowing what to do once you're there. In the stress of the moment, you've got to think like ten different types of people. At any significant event, you may have to play the roles of crowd container, scene coordinator, quasidetective, evidence protector or collector, photographer, media manager, witness transcriber, victim protector, interviewer, family counselor, first-aid provider, hostage negotiator, transporter or deadly force user.

Within any of these tasks, it's easy to become bogged down in the details and miss the importance of the overall response. Our function is to catch crooks and to protect the environment in and around the crime scene so that others can respond or follow-up on our reports to catch the crooks themselves, if we miss.

Keep focused on doing the right things for the right people in the few minutes and hours of our response to serious crimes. What is done at any crime scene sets the tone for what will happen to the involved parties for anywhere from one day after the crime to a span that covers the rest of their lives.

The suspect's footprints that you obliterate with your police boots won't come back. The supposed "witness" you let slip away from the homicide may be the killer. The blood or semen stains you miss, contaminate or destroy can't be brought back by stopping the hands of time.

We have all had moments of clarity in our lives, where we review our response to a situation in the bright light of hindsight and say, "If only I had done this, said that, asked this, took that..." You have to think that the participants in the Simpson saga and the Ramsey misadventure are mentally flogging themselves, using a long list of shoulda, woulda, and coulda's.

Good officers and investigators develop systems for doing the right things the right ways. Under stress, we revert back to how we have been trained. If you are methodical when responding to a garage burglary, you can transfer that same precision to a robbery scene. If you know how, why and when to protect the scene and its evidence at a hit and run case with injuries, you can use the same methodology to respond to a rape investigation.

Regardless of the crime or the scene, it's not necessary to reinvent the wheel. The majority of the response, reporting and investigative protocols you will ever need are found in your policy and procedure manual and in the past experiences of your partners and colleagues. …

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