Scene Safety Protocol

April 16, 2020
3 rules when collecting evidence - for both the scene and your safety

The Law Enforcement Technology April/May 2020 issue is focused on my favorite topics in the law enforcement world—forensics and investigations. That being said, I would like to turn your attention to officer safety. In the crime scene world, some of the highest level of concerns stem from the presence of biohazard substances. The reality is that most of the time the areas of a scene containing biohazards contain the most crucial pieces of evidence. Going hand in hand with that concept, and equally important, is ensuring you don’t contaminate the scene. This two way street of not being subject to contamination while also avoiding contaminating the evidence on scene requires careful consideration. 

How can you effectively collect evidence while still maintaining a high level of safety for yourself and preserving the scene? There are a few, simple ways to do so; they aren’t always easy to remember or adhere to but once they are made routine it becomes second nature. Here are the three big ones.

Rule #1: Always wear booties. 

Yes, they can be a pain to get on and off over your duty boots but the fact of the matter is your boots go a lot of places and whatever is on them will immediately be tracked into the scene. Not only that but there is no question that while on scene you will pick up trace evidence. No one wants crime scene particles at home. It’s not a bad idea to have the evidence tech bag those booties once you are finished with the scene.

Rule #2: Glove up and change gloves often. 

Gloves are standard for most scenes whether it is a crime scene, a search warrant, or handling a subject. However, when you’re on a crime scene for several hours there is no doubt your hands are going to sweat or you’re going to scratch that itch you can’t stand anymore. Both scenarios result in cross contamination. Unless you want to submit your own DNA to the state lab for elimination purposes, be cautious of where your gloved hands are and what they touch. Also, if you are on a scene where you even slightly suspect that syringes may be present ensure you have thicker gloves - puncture proof ones if they are available.

Rule #3: Use the proper steps (and tools) when collecting evidence. 

If you are collecting DNA from three surfaces, change gloves before each one is collected. This way each sample is separated and there is no doubt where the DNA came from. If you are swabbing blood or other fluids, let the buccal swab dry for at least two to three minutes or more if it is saturated. This will help preserve the evidence that much more. Ensure each item is separated in their own containers, and sharps are secured in sharps containers. Always wear gloves when collecting or even transporting evidence to protect yourself. Always ensure you disinfect your evidence markers and scales after each scene. (Scales may need to be cleaned between uses on the same scene as well.)

Though they may seem like obvious rules, they aren’t always easy to remember in the heat of the moment. By maintaining a routine with these for a start, you decrease chances of cross contamination to the scene and yourself.

Stay safe.  

About the Author

Hilary Rodela

Hilary Rodela is currently a Surveillance Officer, a former Private Investigator, a former Crime Scene Investigator, and Evidence Technician. She worked for the Ruidoso (NM) Police Department as well as the Lubbock (TX) Police Department. She has written for several public safety publications and has extensive law enforcement and forensic training and is pursuing forensic expertise in various disciplines. Hilary is a freelance public safety writer and curriculum developer for the National Investigative Training Academy.

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