Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dividing it up: Jurisdiction

Usually on television an entire crime scene unit arrives and sweeps through the scene collecting all the evidence including photographs, fingerprints and trace. Then they are shown in the lab manipulating what they have just collected and within a short period of time, they are calling detectives with a match to the prints found at the scene or some other leading discovery.

In reality, a patrol officer is dispatched to a crime scene and maybe, if the jurisdiction has manpower, a backup officer will follow. After securing the area if it’s a small scene, they will take photographs and maybe dust for prints. If it is something more than a patrol officer can handle, a detective is put on call. One will usually arrive and for larger scenes again, maybe two will be called. Generally about the only time an entire criminal investigation division will be sent is for a major case like murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping or something heinous.

Jurisdiction is probably one of the biggest factors to determine who does what, when, and how. For example, a small town with the population of 900, is going to operate the best they know how with limited men and resources. It’s the police officer then who will do many different jobs such as collecting evidence, logging it in and sending it off to be processed at a lab in a larger city. In a slightly larger city with a more serious crime, the detective may be working alone, collecting evidence, logging it in, making initial contact with victims, typing reports, interviewing witnesses, showing photo lineups, locating potential suspects, and collecting enough probable cause for a judge to issue a complaint. Detectives try to help each other out if it is overly large.

Let’s face it. Communities everywhere make do with what they have. If they need their officers to multi-task, they do it. If law enforcement need more help, the officers will call and ask but you can’t create what isn’t there. And I’d venture to say that all law enforcement everywhere could use more capable men and resources.

One thing that always struck me as funny was when the folks on TV cross over into other jurisdictions, or if they fight with another department to get a case so they can see justice done. Who would have time for that? Who asks for more work when they're overworked already? Plus, officers probably have to wait weeks, if not months for evidence results and the cases just keep coming. Juggling, juggling, trying to make things move in sync—it’s got to be super stressful and tires me just thinking about it.

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