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Trading places: Student officers learn about crime scenes and evidence collection

Citizens Police Academy pupils break down a mock crime scene

A stuffed dummy plays the part of a murder victim in a mock crime scene investigation while students in the Elm Grove Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy try to piece together evidence.

A stuffed dummy plays the part of a murder victim in a mock crime scene investigation while students in the Elm Grove Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy try to piece together evidence.

May 22, 2013

Faithfully watching episodes of "CSI" and "Law and Order" can make some viewers feel like they know the ins and outs of evidence collection and crime scene investigation.

The actors and actresses glamourously solve the crime in less than an hour, quickly gathering evidence, arresting suspects and conducting dramatic interrogations.

But my classmates learned that television is not equivalent to real life during week seven of the Elm Grove Citizen Police Academy.

I couldn't make the class this week, but my classmate and partner Mike Paskov and officer Sandy Brown gave me the run-down.

The set up

The class examined a mock crime scene in the back stairway of the Elm Grove Police Department. It involved a stuffed dummy that had been "stabbed and shot."

"We were told to list the evidence we saw, and evaluate the sequence of events," Mike said.

He described the scene to me. The victim was lying at the bottom of the stairway with her intestines sticking out of a gash in her abdomen. She had a bullet hole in her forehead and was holding a semi-automatic handgun in her right hand. It was pointed toward her temple.

"Right away you could see it was impossible to shoot herself holding the gun in that fashion," Mike said. "To shoot herself, she would have had to hold the pistol pointing at her face and pull the trigger with her thumb."

At the bottom of the stairwell was a paper bag with a liquor bottle and beer bottle, next to two 9mm semi-automatic shell casings. "Drug items" were found in her coat pocket and bloody footprints were found in the stairwell.

At the top of the landing were more bloody footprints. A bloody knife was found stashed behind a "No Guns Allowed" sign. Two shell casings were on the top landing, and two bullets were in the ceiling tile leading downstairs.

Connecting the dots

The class was instructed to gather evidence from the scene, including shell casings and blood samples, and take pictures of the bloody footprints. Some of the students practiced lifting fingerprints using the same powder detectives use at real crime scenes.

After eyeing the crime scene, Mike said, officer Sandy Brown filled the class in on what had taken place.

In what appeared to be a drug deal gone bad, the perpetrator and victim shared drinks at the bottom of the stairs. A struggle broke out and they went upstairs. The victim fired her gun, and the perpetrator cut the victim's abdomen with a knife, so much so that her intestines pushed out. The victim fell down the stairs and the suspect shot her once in the body (where was not determined), then once in the forehead.

In an amateurish attempt to make it look like a suicide, the killer put the pistol in her hand and pointed it at her temple. The killer went up the stairs and fled through a back door.

Not "as seen on TV"

Mike said his experience with the mock crime scene was much different than the rushed crime scene investigations that play out on television.

"It is obvious that what we see on TV and in the movies is strictly Hollywood stuff," he said. " It appears the actual crime-solving process is slow, methodical and documented at every step. Contrary to the TV crime shows, there is no magic, infallible and complete database used to miraculously solve the crime."

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