dead, but the controversies have just begun. Among the growing issues
surrounding his death are the actions of the first responders and
investigators. On July 3, 2009, the Associated Press ran an article which asked
several pointed questions; Why didn't the police seal the mansion where he had
been living? Why didn't they get immediate search warrants? Why did they tow
away a doctors car right after the death but not declare the home a crime
scene? These questions point to serious question for all law enforcement
personnel - what is a crime scene?
Determining a crime
scene as early as possible during a criminal investigation can be critical. As
an example, a properly protected crime scene minimizes degradation of biological
evidence, cross contamination and chain of custody issues. There are two
distinct ways to define a crime scene. A common definition of a crime scene is
a location where a crime occurred. This definition falls short of law
enforcement operational needs. But, among the problems with the common
definition are: 1) the delay resulting from the difficulties associated with
determining if a crime occurred; 2) the nature of trace evidence and the
underlying Theory of Transfer; and, 3) common police tactics which may not be
conducive crime scene best practices.
In an effort to
minimize the problems with the common definition, for law enforcement operations
a crime scene should be defined as a person, place or thing wherein
evidence of a crime may exist.
personnel are involved in call kinds of different incidents. However, the
primary functions of American law enforcement still revolve around the concepts
of the prevention and detection of crime, and the apprehension of offenders.
This means that when the police are called they are more than likely responding
to a potential crime scene. Moreover, many routine traffic stops develop into a
felony arrest which means that every routine traffic stop is potentially a crime
scene. Any delay in implementing crime scene best practices can be minimized
if police officers realize their routine investigation may develop into
something much larger.
The Theory of
Transfer states that when two objects come into contact they leave something of
themselves with the other object. This is the essence of trace evidence - it is
a trace of that contact. The purpose of closing crime scenes is to minimize
contamination. The good police managers avoid going into a crime scene to "look
around" because they realize they could inadvertently bring trace material into
a crime scene or take trace material from a crime scene.
Put yourself in
position of a detective with search and arrest warrants for the home of a
homicide suspect. Although the murder didn't occur in the suspect's home, you
know that their clothing, the weapon or perhaps other evidence may be in the
home. However, because the person is violent felon, you employ your tactical
team to make the initial entry. Although evidence preservation and collection
should never supplant good safety tactics, you are still entering a crime
scene. While the crime didn't occur in the suspects home, you are searching
for evidence and crime scene practices are essential.
investigations, police officers commonly take biological and trace evidence from
offenders. It is clear that not only are locations crime scenes but so too
people, and crime scene best practices and evidence collection protocols should
be followed with people as well as locations. Furthermore, as in the case of
the routine traffic stop that leads to a more serious crime, things such as
vehicles can be crime scenes.
A police officer
often does not know what will eventually develop into a crime scene. Based on
his lifestyle, Michael Jacksons death at 50 isn't all that unusual, it is
suspicious and there needs to be an accounting of the people who may have
contributed to his death. While we don't know if any crime occurred, the public
certainly has strong suspicions and the responsibility falls to law enforcement
to follow through on those suspicions. Therefore, because his body, his rented
home and his doctor's car may contain evidence of a crime, they should be
treated as operational crime scenes.
E. Foster was a sworn member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years.
He retired in 2003 at the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelors from the
Union Institute and University in Criminal Justice Management and a Masters
Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University,
Fullerton. Raymond is a graduate of the West Point Leadership program and has
attended law enforcement, technology and leadership programs such as the
National Institute for Justice, Technology Institute, Washington, DC.
has been part-time lecturer at California State University, Fullerton and
California State University, Fresno and is currently the Department Chair of the
Criminal Justice program at the Union Institute and University. He has
experience teaching upper division courses in law enforcement, public policy,
technology and leadership. Raymond is an experienced author who has published
numerous articles in a wide range of venues including magazines such as
Government Technology, Mobile Government, Airborne Law Enforcement Magazine, and
Police Technology (Prentice Hall, July
2004) is used in over 100 colleges and universities nationwide. Raymond E.
Fosters second book,
Leadership: Texas Hold em Style is