Summerville Citizens Police Academy — CSI, Law & Order, NCIS…reality
“A lot of perception of police work is flat out inaccurate.”
And so we begin our final class with these words of wisdom from Captain Jon Rogers. Rogers is over investigations, narcotics, victims’ advocate, school resource officers, internal affairs and public information.
He is also a speed talker and rather irreverent.
However, as he points out, the public’s perception of police work, forensics and everything else is based largely in part by such television programs as the CSIs, Law & Orders, NCISs and myriad others throughout the years.
Should the Summerville Police Department come into a vast amount of money it might afford the extremely expensive equipment as seen on CSI and in Abby’s domain on NCIS.
In the real world most police departments have to depend on good old fashioned forensics or waiting months and sometimes years, in line, for State Law Enforcement Division labs to process evidence. Rogers begins with the School Resource Officers. “Their job is to show kids there is a lot that is positive about law enforcement,” he explains.
“Too many parents threaten their children with the police if they don’t improve their behavior. They put a fear of law enforcement into young children.”
Where does that leave a child who is lost or in need of help?
In fact, an SRO has one of the more important jobs in a police force. The SRO can mold a child’s lasting impression of law enforcement.
Then, he says, there is the victim’s advocate. He tells us that although we had a whole class with Toni Hood, he bets she didn’t tell us she was also a sketch artist. “She doesn’t advertise her accomplishments,” he says.
He tells of a sketch of Hoods’ that was so good, it enabled police to catch a rapist. “When you held the sketch up next to the booking photo you could hardly tell the difference…it was amazing. She spent six to eight hours with the victim to get a spot-on sketch.”
Hood will sometimes do sketches for other departments too, he says.
And then there’s IA – Internal Affairs – the bane of every cop’s existence according to film and television.
The reality is that IA deals with community complaints which are, more often than not, resolved by looking at an officer’s dashboard cam which records every interaction an officer has, enabling Rogers to show the public what actually happened.
If an officer is wrong, Rogers deals with the officer.
In the case of an officer-involved shooting, State Law Enforcement Division is called in said Rogers, taking the investigation out of SPD and putting it into impartial hands. However, says Rogers, SPD will run a parallel investigation as well to make sure no policies or procedures specific to SPD were violated.
Rogers notes that in the last five years SPD has handled an average of 114,000 calls for service per year.
He says people don’t understand what is needed to investigate a complaint.
First of all, he says, there are only six general investigators and one criminal domestic violence investigator.
“There is no way every case can be assigned.”
So every morning Rogers reads all the incident reports from the last 24 hours and triages them. The triage is based on solvability, evidence, etc.
However, he says, all violent crimes are investigated as is any crime involving a gun.
What makes a crime potentially solvable? Well, for example, in a burglary…does the victim have a list of serial numbers of the items stolen? Photos?
If so, at the very least, police have a chance of finding the stolen goods for the victim. But without those there is no chance so no resources are spent on a case that has no chance of being resolved.
Rogers says it is frustrating to respond for calls where doors were left unlocked and expensive things were left in cars.
“Seriously?” he asks.
Then there is the CSI and evidence collecting.
“DNA takes a year or more to get processed,” he says.
“Fingerprints can take six months or more as can gunshot residue evidence.”
Police have instant drug kits that will test presumptive for drugs instantly but to get evidence that will be court-worthy, the drugs need to go through the state lab.
And ballistics are sent to either Charleston County labs or SLED. Charleston County labs are quicker than SLED, he says. Charleston County used to process fingerprints and DNA but no longer accept out-of-county evidence…the lab is far too busy with its own.
Ballistics are also entered into IBIS – Integrated Ballistics Identification System – which is a national system and will notify if a gun has been used in other crimes, is reported stolen, etc.
“Every gun sold has been fired and its striations (the marks the barrel leaves on a bullet) are documented so if the gun is used in a crime, comparisons can be made,” says Rogers. This documentation is in a federal gun database.
“When we get a gun,” he says, “we run a federal check and a ballistics check.”
Fingerprints, if any can be recovered, are sent to AFIS – Automated Fingerprint Identification System – where eventually there might be a match, (It does not happen in 30 seconds like on television, he points out.), if the person has had their fingerprints taken or identified. Sometimes a match will be made from fingerprints taken from another crime scene. Often without knowing whose fingerprints they are.
Rogers also informs us, to our surprise, that there is no such thing as a statute of limitations in South Carolina with the exception of Spousal Sexual Assault and Bad Checks.
Anything else, well, you can be arrested decades after the fact.
He broaches the subject of interviewing children either as victims or as witnesses.
“We leave that to the Dorchester Children’s Center,” he says. “They are exceptional, and the child is spared the trauma of having to tell their story to numerous people. They record the interviews so all involved have access and the child is protected.”
Rogers said there is always an investigator on call 24/7. Investigators do on call duty by the week.
Rogers noted that the only crime stats kept are what are called Part 1 crimes and those are reported to the FBI. Otherwise they don’t keep stats he says. However, if they are looking for a specific pattern, they can sort the incident reports as needed.
He then takes us out into the fire department where his vehicle is pulled in out of the rain. Reminding us of Bill Nye the Science Guy (sans bowtie), Rogers gets out a fingerprint kit and shows up step by step how to “lift a print.”
Now this is familiar. It’s just like TV!