Forensics on the move

Mobile crime labs allow evidence processing on scene and more

     From a distance, a crime scene tent might look like any other tent. Typically crime scene tents do not have a ground cloth so a tent can be placed over the evidence or an area where crime scene technicians are looking for evidence. These shelters not only protect crime scene technicians, they help preserve the crime scene and evidence, too.

Tents to make the grade

     MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., purchased a 10-foot-by-10-foot crime scene tent from Lynn Peavey. Forensic science majors in the university's criminal justice program use the tent to help them pass their final exam — processing a mock crime scene. Associate Professor Dan Patrich says he's set up the tent in all kinds of environments at all kinds of angles. He's had it on a grassy hillside, on pavement and on metal bleachers.

     Often he says weather conditions dictate when the tent is needed. When students were working on their outdoor crime scene this past semester, the temperature was 84 degrees F, so the tent was set up to provide shade. On a windy day, sides can be attached.

     Patrich says the sturdy tent, which takes two people to set up, won't blow away easily, which is one reason he opted to purchase a tent from a crime scene vendor instead of a commercial store. Another reason he likes the tent is its durability: "Some law enforcement agencies might balk at the price but realistically, it's probably the only tent you'll ever have to buy."

Added value

     Of course, the location of evidence doesn't always make setting up a tent feasible. When that happens, the tent (or an additional tent if one tent is already in use) could be set up as a place where crime scene technicians can take a quick break and rehydrate.

     Agencies can also find added value in the purchase of a crime scene tent by having other units use the tent when it's not set up at a crime scene. For example, the tent could be set up as a command post, a place for investigators to interview witnesses, or a booth to educate the community at the county fair.

     Mark Harris, TVI Corp. vice president of sales, says tents can provide a helpful workspace or resting spot when law enforcement is going to be at a location for any length of time. TVI makes a variety of shelters and tents, as well as customized tents. New to the company's product lineup is the 11-foot-by-11-foot utility shelter, which folds up small enough to fit in a vehicle trunk. Designed with smaller agencies in mind, this utility shed-shaped tent is less expensive than other TVI tents and can be used for a variety of applications.

     If a tent is needed for fingerprint fuming, TVI can meet that need as well. TVI's Law Enforcement Rapid Deploy Command Shelter is a basic unit for any field operation. Two people can set it up in 5 minutes. With an optional disposable liner, the shelter can be used for fingerprint fuming.

     While crime scene tents can protect crime scene technicians and the crime scene from the elements, they can also protect the integrity of the crime scene by shielding the view of onlookers and the media.

Privacy shields

     Crime scene privacy shields and body shields are designed to provide privacy in homicide cases.

     TVI has body and scene shields. The high body shield conceals a vehicle; the low body shield is half the height and used to surround a body or an important item.

     Harris points out using a body shield instead of a sheet eliminates the argument made in the 1994 O.J. Simpson case that covering a body with a sheet could leave trace evidence on the body from someone other than the suspect.

     Lynn Peavey sells two low-profile shields made by TVI and emphasizes the convenience of fitting the shields in a patrol or crime scene vehicle. The privacy shield is 4 feet high and makes the shape of a semi-circle that's 4 feet, 3 inches. The body shield is also 4 feet high but makes a complete circle that's 8 feet, 6 inches in diameter. Both can be stored in the trunk of a vehicle.

Purchasing considerations

     Harris suggests agencies looking to purchase a tent search for one that's long lasting and folds up for easy transportation.

     "Also check the fabrics so they don't fade or shrink from the outside elements, and be sure you can clean them and decontaminate them," he adds. "Some applications could require the use of bleach and strong cleaners."

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