October is National Crime Prevention Month. Many television shows like Investigation Discovery, Forensic Files, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation may intrigue individuals to pursue a career in crime solving. However, it is important to understand fact vs. fiction of forensics. Dr. Michael Verro, Criminal Justice program director at Excelsior College clarifies myths.
Pop Culture and Forensics
FACT vs. FICTION: Do TV shows like Quincy, or current shows like CSI depict forensics accurately?
Verro: Well…… most of the science is generally accurate. However, the likelihood of all the right pieces dropping into the investigator’s lap, having that kind of equipment and trained personnel to solve a major crime in less than an hour each week, is highly unlikely.
FACT vs. FICTION: Broadcast media makes it appear labs are where forensics takes place. Is that true?
Verro: In general, a significant portion of the analysis and interpretation of evidence is performed in a laboratory under controlled conditions. However, in the field, evidence needs to be collected and sometimes analyzed at the scene. Photography, fingerprints, blood sampling, even recovering errant projectiles is done in the field. They are then transported to the lab for analysis.
Education and Forensics
Verro: Forensics combines many sciences, which are then applied within the court system to solve crimes, provide testimony and evidence, absolve the innocent, determine competency and may even be used in civil proceedings.
FACT vs. FICTION: A student of forensics will learn about the various sciences involved and their application.
Verro: A person who is truly interested in studying forensics will address a broad spectrum of topics including, pathology, psychology, anthropology, accounting, entomology, and many other sciences.
FACT vs FICTION: Investigative forensics will soon be offered at Excelsior College.
Verro: Fact. Beginning in 2014, the bachelor’s degree in criminal justice program will offer a new concentration in Investigative Forensics.
Forensics in the “Real World”
FACT vs. FICTION: Any science applied to the court can be part of forensics.
Verro: Not all sciences will relate to forensics. Essentially, forensics is the application of scientific principles to the court, and/or legal system system. Generally, any science that answers questions and provides significant explanations for the issues brought before a court can be considered forensic in nature.
FACT vs. FICTION: Crimes can be small to elaborate.
Verro: Crimes can range from petty personal property crimes to elaborate financial, institutional or international, and violent crimes.
FACT vs. FICTION: There are lots of jobs offered in criminal profiling.
Verro: There are very few actual criminal profilers in this country. The majority of those are very experienced and well-trained police officers. Not forensic psychologists, as some people might believe. In fact, I personally consider the only true criminal profilers to be those working at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. Primarily due to their experience, training and vast resources that are available to them. Unlike television, profiling is often a hit-or-miss endeavor. Research suggests that the ability of a person, say a psychologist or criminal profiler, to predict dangerousness on the part of criminals is at best, a 50/50 guess. Not the esoteric and omnipotent science it is portrayed to be in the media.