CSI: The reality
‘Creative licence’ is a wonderful thing. It exists so that authors can ‘embroider’, embellish or assume what should be factual content. In some situations, that’s no problem, but context is key – facts help bring plausibility, credibility and realism to a writer’s work. However, because the genre is called ‘fiction’, process tends to be side-lined for drama and tension. Look at our example below:
The scene is set…
Family members reported Penny Farlow missing. Immaculate, in his Armani sunglasses and Savile Row suit, Steve Latchem started his investigation at Penny's home. From photographs and documents he established that Penny was a wealthy, successful businesswoman. “Which provides at least one motive,” he muttered. With a UV torch he searched the walls, revealing spatters of blood. Steve deduced that a crime had been committed three days prior. He searched further, and found what he suspected to be the murder weapon: a large mahogany ornament that he dusted for fingerprints. “Damn.” The ornament had been wiped.
The back door slammed, more to do with the wind whipping up outside than anything. It was Penny's live-in lover, Jason Wild. Steve introduced himself, then sent a barrage of questions Jason’s way. “Where’s Penny? Where were you three nights ago? What was the state of your relationship?” As Jason’s answers came quickly and confidently, Steve thought only one thing: his alibi doesn’t fit.
Steve snapped handcuffs on Jason’s wrists and threw him into the police car. Downtown, the detective extracted a full confession. “Not bad, Steve,” he congratulated himself. “And it only took an hour.”
How tidy and convenient. After all, why should real life get in the way of a good story?!
In real life, had Penny been reported missing, family members and friends would be interviewed by a team of specially-trained officers. Though Wild’s alibi may have been iffy, that’s not what UK courts convict people on: evidence is vital.
Early on in the investigation, the police would contact Penny's bank manager, to confirm activity on her account after she went missing. Even Penny’s hairdresser added to the enquiry: she confirmed that Penny missed her appointment, something completely out of character. Penny's cleaner is traced; she states that on her last visit, Penny wasn’t there and Wild sacked her. She also noticed a new hall carpet had been fitted.
As for Steve Latchem being the only detective on the job, officers deployed in real life would amount to the following:
• A CSI team: two officers, one crime scene manager, one detective
• An underwater search team: eight officers and a sergeant
• A task force: ten officers, one sergeant, one detective
• A team for door-to-door enquiries: ten officers, one sergeant, one detective
• A ‘suspect’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
• A ‘victim’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
• A ‘scene’ team: one detective sergeant, four detective constables
• An intelligence team: two detective constables
• An exhibits team: two detective constables
• A disclosure officer
• A suspect interview team: one detective sergeant, one detective constable
• A file prep team: one detective sergeant, one detective constable
• A logistics officer
• A press officer
• Incident room staff: eight officers
• A senior investigating officer and deputy
Experts would also be called in for their specialist knowledge, such as those to analyse blood spatter. They confirmed that a serious crime had taken place in the dining room; and also, that beneath the hall carpet there was blood-staining on the floorboards. The pooling blood pattern there indicated that a wound had been in contact with the surface.
Despite this evidence, due to the absence of Penny’s body, a forensic archaeologist checked the garden. He confirmed there had been recent activity. Was Penny buried there?
This is just the beginning of a real crime investigation, one where numerous experts, individuals and departments work together to gather evidence. Creative licence doesn’t get a look in, if the perpetrators are to be brought to justice…
Long gone are the days when you can bend the ear of your local bobby for the price of a pint. Says Think Forensic’s Managing Director, Sue Procter, “TV programmes, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, may show the crime, the investigation and the verdict within an hour, involving only the main characters, but this is far removed from what actually happens off-screen.
Think Forensic – a company run by real-life law enforcement professionals - are positioning themselves as ‘sources’ themselves, delivering technical, procedural and forensic detail to authors, via crime-writing workshops at their purpose-built crime centre in Huddersfield.