Almost at any given moment, crime dramas dominate the airwaves.
The opening scene is of a team of cops. Wearing gloves and biohazard outfits, they are busy lifting fingerprints from bedsheets, shower curtains and window sills.
Then a commercial.
After the commercial, the same detectives match those prints to a seedy-looking character and by the end of the episode, the investigators have located the suspect and extracted a confession.
That’s a wrap.
Starting this fall, there’s a new show called FBI which looks at agents solving a variety of cases. But much of what is on TV crime dramas is just not accurate.
Channel 8 News Now Reporter Orko Manna was given an inside look at the Las Vegas field office and he learned more about what the agents do.
The FBI evidence response team, ERT, demonstrated how they cover a crime scene as they look for clues.
“We start by vacuuming the seats of this car,” one agent told Manna. “Then, we swap the steering wheel for skin cells and then we collect fingerprints.”
With everything done, the ERT agent pointed out one fingerprint which had been picked up.
“That’s beautiful. You can see all the ridge detail on there.”
Much of the work the FBI does takes a while, so it’s not 30-minutes to solving the crime.
“The majority of their job is not going to be able to be resolved in 60-minutes,” said Nicholas Wooldridge, a Las Vegas Criminal Defense attorney. “They can take months and sometime years to solve.”
There are some aspects of crime shows which are realistic. One example are the intense group brainstorming sessions.
“We call it the bullpen,” said Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge for the FBI Las Vegas.
While the same goes for the FBIs use of advanced technology, agents admit some high-tech devices on television aren’t quite right.
“They want people to watch, so it has to be exciting,” said Rouse.
Being an agent doesn’t come with the glitz and glamor. The job is more about patience and skill, along with the desire to improve.
“They are never satisfied,” said Wooldridge. “They are doing well today — they want to do better tomorrow.”
From 1978’s Vega$ with Robert Urich to 2006s Las Vegas Law to the current show, FBI, Las Vegas has been a key character in many crime shows.
Anyone who spends more than 4-hours a week feels qualified to sign up with law enforcement. The truth between what is seen on television and what crime fight is like in the real world are different — often vastly so.
Detectives analyze the evidence. In truth, most crime scene work is separate from evidence gathering. Crime scene investigators process the crime scene and rarely participate directly in the investigation. Detectives rarely go to the lab.
Crime scenes are processed fast. Televised crimes are usually solved in 60-minutes. Real life scenes can take months — often years — to be solved. DNA evidence alone takes over 50-hours of lab work, the equivalent of more than six workdays. That’s only if the lab technicians don’t have a back up to work through.
All Crime Scene Working Conditions Are The Same. Crime scene technicians don’t consider the working conditions while collecting evidence. Every scene is different when it comes to conditions. Gathering tiny samples is different in the snow than it is in the baking sun. The crime scenes are often dirty, occasionally bloody and often outdoors in bad weather.
Emotions Get Turned Off. Crime scene technicians don’t turn off their emotions. Nothing on television compares to the real thing and walking into the aftermath of a crime takes some getting used to. No one is going to be coolly sipping their coffee while looking at blood splatter like on TV.
All Crime Scenes Are Processed. No all crime scenes are processed because of the time it takes. There isn’t enough time, or resources, to process all cases, especially in larger agencies with high crime rates.
Wooldridge mentions that most law enforcement groups require over five years of experience as a street cop before promotion to a specialized pay grade . “I am almost certain that no agency would allow any officer to transfer to a CSI position until after they have completed the academy and made it off probation.”