Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dress Code

Although I'm sure most of the men in the television audience would like to believe that a beautiful woman such as Calleigh Duquesne—the blonde from rural Louisiana, now a CSI—would be running around crime scenes in high heel boots, low-cut knit tops and white pants, all the while dabbing blood swabs and pulling out bullet casings, you’ve got your fix.

And it isn’t any different over in Vegas with Catherine, or in New York with Stella Bonasara and her long, curly hair and décolleté peeking out of some very revealing tops while she looks quite serious, over the new corpse-of-the-week. TV Guide ran promos of all these shows this past year and the glamour shots were very sexy indeed. But if you’re a TV crime drama producer and you need to draw an audience and keep them coming back, gorgeous women in precarious spots and dangerous situations is the way to do it.

But, you, Dear Reader, know that crime scenes often contain hazardous chemicals; that biological contaminants can pose a critical threat to the health of police officers or crime scene technicians. Evidence that contains bodily fluids or stains, tissue or skin, toxic chemicals or other elements must be properly marked as biohazards. The term, “biohazard,” is given to all live or once living organic material that can cause morbidity or mortality in man.

Words such as bacterial agents, fungal agents, and parasitic agents come to mind; and let’s not forget viruses. Not only that, but the substances that are used to process crime scenes, such as blood reagents or latent fingerprint development chemicals can require face, mouth or eye protection. Often the chemicals are so toxic it’s like fumigating your house for bugs and vermin—everyone must leave until it processes, or at least until it is ventilated out of the air.

Lab people too, are especially careful. A little site from the CDC states: "Primary hazards to personnel working with these agents relate to accidental percutaneous or mucous membrane exposures, or ingestion of infectious materials. Extreme caution should be taken with contaminated needles or sharp instruments. Even though organisms routinely manipulated at Biosafety Level 2 are not known to be transmissible by the aerosol route, procedures with aerosol or high splash potential that may increase the risk of such personnel exposure must be conducted in primary containment equipment. . ."

Items for safety equipment may include items for personal protection, such as gloves, coats, gowns, shoe covers, boots, respirators, splash shields, safety glasses or goggles.

Kind of adds a new light to breaching a crime scene when you’re actually dressed for dinner out. I’m looking at a catalog from Armor Forensic (I really like their motto: Discover the Truth), and it has pictures of guys dressed in Tyvek (you know, the stuff that’s used for home insulation), disposable shoe booties—and even high-top versions—and, hey, they even sell a “Spit Net.” I guess that’s for when law enforcement have to transport somebody that intends to spew on anyone who touches them.

(They won’t show that on TV!)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Criminal Victimization or Am I in Danger?

We are constantly reminded by newspapers and television news programs about the prevalence of violent crime. And it seems that this fact has not been lost on the producers of television shows. With three CSI shows, Bones, NCIS, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Justice, Shark, several Law & Order(s), 48 Hours, Forensic Files—and other investigative primetime shows of this ilk commandeering the crime drama slots, it’s no wonder crime and criminals are on our minds.

In fact, you probably imagine violent crime to be more widespread that it actually is. Is this constant exposure having an effect on your thinking? To the point of badgering? Are your fears exaggerating your actual danger?

In 2004, the year in which the most recent comprehensive data are available, the FBI reported a total of 16,140 murders or nonnegligent manslaughters. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this total actually represents a 2.4% decrease from the 16,530 murders recorded in 2003. Now granted, if your family had to bury someone because of violent crime, that number is most meaningful and I am truly sorry. But in reality, from 1993 to 2005, the violent crime rate was down 58%—from 50 to 21 victimizations per 1,000 persons aged 12 or older. And, hey, our population is reaching 300 million, with about 244,493,430 ages 12 or older.

Now I’m well aware that USA TODAY ran a piece from Washington that said violent crime rose in the first half of the year—that last year violent crime rose 2.2% nationally, and this year is it showing 3.7% when compared to the first six months of 2005. On the wing of this, the Bush administration is asking for $1.2 billion in crime-fighting grants, so there is a heavy political game on-going.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see this trend. It’s just that, as a whole, homicides are not on every street corner. One very important statistic, (yes, I know they are a pain to read and easily manipulated according to its viewpoint,) but, based on the preliminary data, the homicide rate for 2005 is an estimated 5.7 per 100,000 individuals. That means folks, if you lined up 100,000 people, five of them are getting whacked. Odds are, it won’t be you.

Who is getting killed? Well, most murder victims are male (78%). Half are white (49.8%), almost half were black (47.6%) and 2.6% is someone else (not much value here). 77% of the victims knew their offender and firearms were used in the majority (70%). Offenders were most often male (90%) and age 18 or older (92%). Homicide is generally intraracial and most often incited by an argument (44%). We have some angry and sick people, don't argue with them.

Females are victimized by someone they know (18% intimates), and males are more likely to be hurt by a stranger (54%). Now there are many more things to talk about, but suffice it to say, the fear numbers in your head and on bad box screen, are markedly worse than reality.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Honest Appraisal, No Delusions

I know your favorite televsion shows are crime scene based. I like them too. But you gotta know, there are a lot of things wrong with what you're seeing on TV. Because I have this "insider" position—with my friends and colleagues who actually work in the criminal justice system—I can let you know exactly what is bunkum and what's the truth. And don't you want to know?

One of the things I do for free is to act as a helper/mentor on the site Pitsco's "Ask an Expert." For about nine or ten years now I've gotten mail from this site and most of it is from teenagers doing reports, high school students looking for career information, and even elementary school dearlings looking for projects for science fair, and I gotta tell you, they are really surprised to find out that a lot of CSI-Las Vegas, New York and Miami (not to mention Crossing Jordan, one of the most blatant in la-la land) is made up by writers who are just telling a good yarn. Okay, so let that not be YOU. You want the real dope, the actual low-down on what this crime business is all about.

Well, in order to get you the real stuff, I will interview some of my friends (oh, they'll love that), explain certain procedures, and draw your eyes to information sources that even I use.

Some of the topics we'll tackle have to do with job descriptions (how does what); crime scene techniques, lab equipment and capabilities, and then we'll also take a stab at the worse offenses, and the repercussions of putting nonsense on TV.

Send me your thoughts, keep up to speed on the posts (I'll try for at least once a week—hey, I gotta write books and do speaking engagements and all that other author-type schtick, don't I? Gimme a break.) In the meantime, tell your friends and act supportive. Looking to form relationships and readers out of you.

Stay sane.