The REAL CSI – Photography at the scene of crimes

Paul Holmes is a full-time trainer with West Yorkshire Police for Crime Scene Investigators in West Yorkshire, in particular the photographic aspects of the work. He presented the club with a fascinating evening’s talk on the work of the CSI’s (who used to be called Scenes of Crime Officers until recently). The evening started with a brief history of forensic work (would you believe it started with the Chinese many centuries ago?). Fingerprint work really started in the early 20th century and as technology progressed other types of forensic evidence came into play, but fingerprints still remain a cornerstone of the work. DNA evidence is relatively recent but can still only be expressed as a probability – even though the probability of it being wrong is only 1 in a billion!

Paul then took us through the history of photography in crime scenes work starting with very old box cameras using 10” x 8” plates, through specialist fingerprint cameras, Mamiya 6” x 7” cameras right through to Nikon D300’s which are now the mainstay of the service. The coming of digital revolutionised the service. Previously there were many rolls of film to be processed and documented. Sometimes only 5 shots would be used for the scene of a crime but now they use as many shots as they like. The work includes recording the results of fires, traffic accidents, victim injuries etc. using whatever techniques may be necessary (fluorescent and UV photography, Smartwater, cross-polarisation techniques etc.).

In terms of the use of digital photography, West Yorkshire Police effectively wrote the rule book after the extensive use of digital photography in the Bradford riots. The aim of crime scene photography is to record – simple as that really, with no changes of any kind. Paul admitted that in most of the outdoor shots the sky is “blown out” but they’re not worried about that at all. As long as they can scene, injuries etc. that was all that mattered. No software is used to modify the image apart from the possibly rectifying a colour cast if it is important to the case. Specialist teams elsewhere in the service may use software to enhance images but the scenes of crime photography must simply be a true record. One new development does use software though and this is for the recording of QuickTime Virtual Reality where the scene can be recreated in full and “walked” though.

Paul finished off with some examples of shots that had actually been taken and identified the techniques used. It had been a fascinating evening and Paul had given us a really good insight into a world rarely seen. It had an effect on some members as they were seen carefully wiping away any fingerprints from their cups and glasses before leaving!!

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