Forensics on the move

Mobile crime labs allow evidence processing on scene and more


Purchasing considerations for mobile labs

     When Pinellas County set out to buy its mobile lab, no one flipped open a catalog and pointed to a picture and said, "That's the one." Starting with an empty shell, Pinellas County gathered input from its 44 crime scene unit members to create a wish list of equipment and capabilities. LDV then purpose-built the lab.

     To others considering the purchase of a mobile crime lab, Wentz says, "Decide what you need and what you want to do, and visit other agencies with mobile crime labs. Ask them what they like and what they would do differently."

     John Mauro, the forensic science supervisor who coordinated the input from the forensics unit for Pinellas County's mobile lab design, says one thing he would like the lab to have in the future is dependable satellite communications to transmit pictures from the mobile lab to the photo lab. Cellular communications are not always reliable, Mauro explains.

     LaGuardia says purchasing a mobile crime lab that's built to last a long time — and adapt to technology upgrades — will save money in the long run. Conversely, he says buying a vehicle now that's cheaply built will likely wear out sooner and not meet the demands of new technology in three to seven years.

     In other words, not all vehicles are built with rigorous crime scene work in mind. The overall structural integrity, the engine, the chassis, generators and wiring techniques, for example, can vary greatly.

     Dekle's advice for anyone looking to buy a mobile crime lab is the same advice he would give to someone looking to buy a mobile communications vehicle: "Listen to the people trained to use the equipment because they will tell you what will work in the field." Often he says the biggest mistake made by people acquiring trucks of any kind is that the people who are in the field doing the work don't get enough input into the design of the vehicle.

     "A vehicle needs to fulfill its mission requirements, and the people who know those requirements are the people who have gone through specialized training and constantly work in the field," he says.

     As technological capabilities increase, Dekle and LaGuardia anticipate the demand for mobile crime labs will increase and more work will be done at the crime scene.

Agency image

     The technology an agency uses directly influences its image: The public tends to notice a school bus-size vehicle with a law enforcement agency's name on the side, and it's likely other agencies will notice, too.

     Today's economic conditions are tough, but LaGuardia says agencies that aggressively pursue grants and demonstrate a need that helps them better serve their communities will get the funding.

     "These vehicles are tremendous crime-fighting tools for the department," he says. "Once in place, they become fixtures in the community. Their upkeep, replacement and retrofit costs often become part of budgets over time because they are proven to help officers better perform their jobs."

     Rebecca Kanable has been writing about law enforcement issues for approximately 10 years. She can be reached at kanable@charter.net.

Tents and shields for the crime scene

     Hot temperatures, brisk winds and cold rain can make the job of collecting evidence more difficult. Crime scene technicians realize they don't always work in the best weather conditions or environments. They also know that big cases gather large crowds of onlookers and attract news helicopters overhead. While it's impossible to eliminate these outdoor challenges, setting up crime scene tents and shields can help eliminate some frustration.

     As more portable tools are available for use at the crime scene, Crime Sciences Inc. President Paul Couture reports increased demand for tents. Crime Sciences Inc. supplies tents to Gieserlab and Lynn Peavey Co. as well as directly to law enforcement agencies.

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