LUCY BURDETTE: Today we are fortunate to have Tom Adair, a retired, internationally recognized, forensic scientist/CSI in Colorado, visiting our blog. He has a new blog on forensics for writers and some very interesting pet peeves and opinions on getting things right--and wrong! Welcome Tom!
TOM ADAIR: As a forensic scientist you have to confront a lot of unpleasant and nasty things; not the least of which is politics. Political influence can take many forms from benign (yet annoying) new uniform policies to outright interference with a criminal investigation. It varies from agency to agency too, popping its head up like a traveling circus in town to get their freak on. I like to think I'm a pretty simple, straight forward guy. Being a CSI is tough enough so when confronted with goofy obstacles I tend to react negatively. Such is the case with political correctness.
As authors you can use these kinds of issues to inject a little tension with or between characters. They can also help you shape your characters values and add some fun dialog. Here are a few brief examples.
"We treat all deaths as Homicides"
This is a quaint little mantra that sounds like you're really serious about solving a case right? It's commonly offered up at press conferences by high ranking law enforcement officers trying to assure the public they are taking the case seriously. The problem I have always had with the phrase is that it implies a bias. When I would write a preliminary report (prior to autopsy findings, toxicology, etc.) I would always list the classification as simply a death investigation. That's it. As a scientist I'm supposed to remain neutral and go where the evidence leads me. But if I begin with the assumption the death is a homicide (presumably until evidence proves otherwise) then I may be setting myself up to miss red flags suggesting suicide or staging.
The Bunny Suit
These are the full body Tyvek suits that are really common in Europe and during high profile cases with a lot of media attention. They're uncomfortable and they tear pretty easily and I've generally only worn them to protect myself from some hazard at the crime scene. But a lot of agencies require their CSIs to wear these suits on homicide scenes to "prevent" contamination. The funny thing is that you'll almost never see anyone wearing these suits at burglary scenes, recovered stolen vehicles, or other "low profile" crimes. Additionally, the first responders won't wear these suits upon first discovering the scene. So one would expect to find a bunch of contamination present at these other scenes right (after all, they didn't protect the scene in these funny looking suits)? The fact of the matter is you don't because normal evidence handling procedures prevent contamination but they just don't look as good on the live broadcast of the evening news.
A Person of Interest
This is a favorite of mine. Admittedly, a pretty minor thing but just annoying as hell. Again, this is a classic statement offered up by high ranking officials at press conferences. Just once I'd love to hear a reporter ask the official to define and differentiate a "person of interest" with a "suspect". I'd buy a tub of popcorn for that show. Obviously if you're interested in a person relative to a crime you suspect they may have had something to do with it don't you? Are they really worried that they'll offend the wife-beating dirt bag husband by suggesting he might have had something to do with the disappearance of his wife?
Unfortunately there are too many other examples to mention here. Needless to say, you can use some of these types of issues to spice up some scenes and create explosive dialog between characters (usually those issuing the orders and those following them). Imagine how morale can plummet if the lead detective is reprimanded for calling the parents suspects in the death of their sweet newborn baby. What kind of message will that send to the other characters and how aggressively will they pursue new leads? Play around with some issues and see if they work for you. You may be surprised how well these scene mirror real life events.
LUCY: See I've already learned things--like "the person of interest" phrase which is unfortunately riddled all through my new book! But it's not too late for you Reds--Tom will stop in over the day to answer your questions...