CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's the "CSI" effect: an unreasonable expectation that crime scene evidence can be instantly analyzed with magical results.
It works that way on TV all the time, but in the field the case can be a lot different, Chris Bily said.
Bily is an instructional coordinator with West Virginia University's Next Generation Forensic Science Initiative, which is offering free workshops to middle and high school students. The day-long workshops in WVU's Crime Scene Complex put students through a more realistic set of paces when it comes to Fingerprints (Feb. 22); Footwear impression evidence (March 22); Firearm identification (April 26) and Bloodstain pattern analysis (May 24).
Consider fingerprints. On TV the fingerprint "is put into a computer and it's identified instantly -- the name and address of a suspect comes up," Bily said.
"In reality, fingerprints recovered from a crime scene can take a very long time to develop. They are often very poor quality. It can take a long time to compare them. When they portray fingerprints on television they are these nearly full fingerprints that are of pristine quality -- those are the exception to the rule in actual crime scene work."
Akin to fingerprints, footwear impression evidence is very valuable physical evidence at a crime science, Bily said. "It is often overlooked and undervalued."
"If I had an impression from a crime scene it might give me, for instance, a Chuck Taylor All-Star. But it's different from a fingerprint database because it will provide a list of suspects -- this just provides the type of shoe."
In firearms identification, the pattern of ammunition is key, he said. "Each gun as a result of the manufacturing process has its own signature or its own fingerprint that is transferred to the bullet as it travels down the barrel.
"If the marks on an evidence bullet can be matched to the marks on [a] test first bullet the forensic scientist can say the evidence bullet and test first bullet came from the same gun."