The role of police officers list a wide range of duties related to the safety and welfare of the general public. Police officers are highly trained and specialized in reacting to emergency situations and events that ordinary people are not equipped to deal with. Police officers are trained in their respected field as first responders to specific emergency circumstances. According to Crime Scene Forensics the basic requirements as a first responder will include:
“Note the time that you 1.) Were dispatched, 2.) Arrived on the scene, 3.) Called for supervisory or specialized personnel to the scene, 4.) Record the names and contact numbers for anyone present at the scene upon your arrival. Then you will rope off a very large area around the scene, keep everyone out and back, and ensure that only authorized persons are allowed inside the crime scene. Second, you will establish a crime scene attendance log and maintain until the scene is released. This log should include the name of each person entering the scene, the date and time of each person entered, the reason for each person entering, and the date and time of each person exiting the scene. The crime scene should be protected from any human or vehicular traffic, animals, and no one should use any toilets or phones within the crime scene”.
These are only the basic requirement upon first responding to the crime scene. These steps were established so that officers will not only record actual details such as time and persons at the scene of the crime, but also to ensure that no one enters the crime scene except for trained personnel which will maintain that the evidence does not become decontaminated. There are still many other criteria to be conducted and investigated after this basic requirement has been met. Once the initial crime scene has been identified and a perimeter has been established a more thorough investigation will entail. As stated by Byrd (2000) more specific criteria will include:
“Physical evidence at a crime scene can be split into 2 areas: testimonial and physical evidence. The testimonial evidence would be any witnessed accounts of an incident. The physical evidence would refer to any material items that would be present on the crime scene. Evidence at a scene for the investigation: may prove that a crime was committed, establish any key elements of a crime, link a suspect with a scene or victim, establish the identity of a victim or suspect, corroborate verbal witness testimony, exonerate the innocent”(p.1).
A police officer may conduct the investigation or it may require a crime scene investigator with more specialized training. This varies depending upon the scene being investigated and determining whether more experience or a specialist is required. Whoever conducts this investigation will follow a step specific process. As explained by Byrd (2000) the investigation will meet certain criteria:
“In an organized approach to crime scene investigations there are three basic and simple stages in properly processing the crime scene. These stages consist of Scene Recognition, Scene Documentation, and Evidence Collection. An organized approach is a sequence of established protocol and duties. An organized approach assures: a thorough and legal search is conducted, expeditious processing without compromise, proper scene documentation, proper methods of technique for evidence recovery, all pertinent evidence recovery, proper handling and packaging, proper distribution points for evidence analysis, and proper safety precautions are followed”(p.2).
During these stages there are certain tools and techniques crime scene investigators will use. Within this process there are specific types of evidence collected and specific means utilized for the proper collection. A brief explanation of these techniques as offered by Byrd (2000) would include:
“Scene Recognition is the discovery of evidence within the initial search of the scene. The search can be defined as the organized and legal examination of the crime scene to locate items of evidence to the crime under investigation. In scene documentation an organized approach for processing the crime scene where all functions have to correspond and be consistent in depicting the crime scene. In the scene documentation stage there are three steps to properly document the crime scene: written notes and reports, photographs, and sketching. Reports should be done in a chronological order and should include no opinions, no analysis, no conclusions, and just the facts. The photographs should be taken as soon as possible, to depict the scene as it was first observed. The photographs allow a visual permanent record of the crime scene and items of collection. Sketches are used along with the reports and photographs to document the scene. The sketch accurately shows the appearance of a crime, the position, and relationship of items. The evidence collection in crime scene processing is the methods, techniques, and procedures used in retrieving evidence”(p.2).
With a better understanding of all the steps taken in a proper crime scene investigation the reader can appreciate that this process is very specific and that many steps are taken to allow that evidence is collected in the best manner applicable.
Police Officers Role as Truth Seekers
Prior to starting a career as a police officer they are sworn in. During this ceremony police officers swear under oath to uphold and enforce the law in a truthful manner. As a police officer, it is expected that they will be honest in all their job duties. Police officers and crime scene investigators have an implied responsibility within the realms of their job position to be truth seekers. The importance of police honesty is stated by Spector (2011) that:
“Every person involved in the criminal justice system relies on police honesty:
-Under the application of the collective knowledge doctrine, police officers rely on the validity of information provided to them by fellow officers.
-Supervisors render decisions based on information received from officers.
-According to the tenets of community policing, citizens are urged to communicate and cooperate with law enforcement officials. If they trust and respect police officers, the ability to garner their support will only be enhanced.
-Prosecutors depend on honest reports, statements, and affidavits when prosecuting criminals.
-Judges rely on honesty in evaluating warrants.
-Jurors determine guilt or innocence and often liability based on an officers investigation and testimony”(p.1).
It is impossible for humans to not make mistakes and at some point in their life everyone tells a lie. However, as a police officer, one is held to a certain standards that they will be truth seekers when conducting their work. Unfortunately, there have been officers who have told lies in the past and that has played a role in police officers losing creditability with the general public. For the officers who are caught being dishonest in their job duties there are serious ramifications. As suggested by Spector (2011): “The best way to encourage honesty is to have a clear code of conduct stating that officers who are untruthful will be subject to termination for a first offense and to implement this code standard in a consistent manner”(p.2). When reacting as a first responder or a crime scene investigator it is critical that police officers always act as truth seekers. Upon consistently acting as a truth seeker it assures that the evidence collected is accurate, and further assures that in a trial the truthful evidence collected will ensure that the guilty or innocent party be recognized and treated accordingly.
The Fourth Amendment as it applies to a Proper Investigation
The Fourth Amendment was established to protect people from unreasonable searches or seizures on their person, property, and personal effects. There are certain criteria that must be met for a search or seizure to be legal under the Fourth Amendment. As explained by Reynolds (2010):
“The notion of probable cause is the legal mechanism that protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure. Law enforcement officials without “a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime” may not obtain a warrant. A law enforcement official needs a rational suspicion that a felony has been committed to legally obtain a warrant. This rational suspicion is referred to as probable cause. The Fourth Amendment does not make people immune to illegal searches or arrest. Many unlawful searches and seizures occur in the United States. However, criminal evidence obtained illegally may be found unsuitable for use in a court. This evidence may be nullified by the exclusionary rule. Also evidence can be suppressed if it has been deemed inadmissible to the court”(p.1).
According to Crawford (1999):
“Crime scenes are given no special considerations under the Fourth Amendment. To obtain a valid search warrant, officers must meet two critical requirements of the Fourth Amendment: 1) establish probable cause 2) particularly describe the evidence. Crime scenes are unique in that their very existence establishes the probable cause necessary to obtain a search warrant. The very fact that a crime has been committed gives officers the reason to believe that evidence of the crime will be located on the scene”(p.1).
When an officer is acting as a first responder or conducting a crime scene search it important that they act under the Fourth Amendment. When officers or investigators go outside the rules set forth by the Fourth Amendment, they are acting illegally and the evidence will not be considered in court.
In conclusion one can understand how important it is to know the role of police officers as first responders, how police officers and crime scene investigators act as truth seekers, the steps involved in crime scene investigation from the initial response to collection of evidence, the importance of the Fourth Amendment in conducting a legal search and seizure, and how all these aspects affect the final outcome. Each aspect is equally important, and if criminal justice officials maintain all aspects properly and legally then justice has been served.