CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — “Law enforcement is predominantly male,” Katherine Pina, crime scene investigator said. “But actually here in Corpus, in the crime scene unit, we are actually predominantly female. We get the evidence. We process it. We get the bad guys, in a sense, get the justice for the victims.”
One could say it’s justice literally at the gloves of the 11-person Corpus Christi Police Department's forensics team.
“I was shocked when I first came here,” Jennifer Gintovt, another CSI said. “I remember the first day Sara took me on a tour of the division and everyone I was seeing was a woman and this is crazy. I had no idea.”
Sara Barrera is the assistant crime lab manager and crime scene supervisor.
“My title is assistant crime lab manager,” Barrera said. “I’m also at this time the crime scene supervisor.”
Barrera said her journey actually began when she was falling asleep in high school classes.
Her English teacher who she credits for her career, one day asked Barrera what she was interested in.
“Crime scene investigation is kind of cool, and when she said that, she said I have the perfect book,” Barrera said.
Her teacher gave Barrera a forensics book, one she said she couldn’t put down.
“I knew that day that is what I wanted to do,” Barrera added.
“In high school, I was fortunate enough to go to King and it had the law enforcement program and forensics program,” Pina said. “So I did that. And as I excelled in those classes, my teachers actually recommended me for scholarships.”
For Haydee Garcia and Gintovt, the interest began much earlier.
“Back in the day we would go outside and play with mud,” Garcia said. “No, I was conducting experiments outside with mud. I hate to say this but it started with Forensic Files.”
Garcia is a latent print examiner.
“I love fingerprints,” Garcia said. “I love the thrill of making an identification and knowing that I was there to assist in capturing a person.”
“I really wanted to do this since I was a kid,” Gintovt said. “I used to watch CSI as a kid with my mom and that’s what I decided I wanted to do.”
Gintovt said she loves everything about her job.
“Like this is the dream," Gintovt added. "I am so excited to come to work every day. There’s the stuff that not everyone enjoys like writing paperwork and writing reports and stuff like that. But being out in the field can be so rewarding for so many different reasons."
Each of the four women was asked about some of the common misconceptions about what they do.
“Cases are not solved in thirty minutes,” Gintovt said. “They aren’t solved in an hour. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice don’t move that fast and there’s a reason why. You want to make sure that the work that you are doing is solid and is going to stand up in court.”
They said advancements have helped over time.
“We have technology like photoshop and different kinds of applications that help us see better and be able to determine whether or not there’s more to a print than just what we see with our naked eye,” Garcia said.
Their work entails collecting DNA, following the chain of custody, and making sure their reports are accurate.
“We do see a lot of things,” Barrera said.
“Often times they are in the middle of the worst day of someone’s life or the end of another,” Gintovt said. “There are definitely some things that are permanently engraved in my brain and they will never go away.”
Some of the women were asked how they’ve coped with everything they’ve seen out in the field.
“For me talking about things just works well,” Gintovt said. “But having a good support system really makes a difference and we are all really supportive of each other too.”
“I operate a ranch,” Barrera said. “It’s nice to get some peace and quiet. Working the fences working the cattle.
During the interview, the women gave much credit to their male counterparts but said being a woman in their field has its advantages.
“We care a little bit more,” Pina said. “We are a little bit more compassionate.”
“We do have more intuition and you know we go with what we feel and we are more empathic,” Garcia said.
“If I am seeing somebody it is not a good day,” Gintovt said. “So I just find that being a woman and also being a civilian, because we are not officers, does make a difference sometimes for people when they are interacting with us. Especially when they are going through something really traumatic. Especially when the victim themselves is a woman.”
Pina said the type of work and long hours at the office is taxing.
“I’m a mom and you know I pick my schedule with how my kids are and yes it’s hard,” Pina said. “Sometimes I don’t see them. But them telling me ‘Mom, you know, we love you. We are proud of you for what you’re doing. You’re putting the bad guys away.’ That is such a good feeling.”
Garcia said the payoff was worth it to keep their community safe.
“You get to be the one as a latent print examiner to help put someone behind bars that deserve it,” Garcia said. “And you get to exclude or exonerate people who don’t.”
“Everyone in this division works extremely hard," Barrera said. We’re not scared to get dirty, working long hours, working under the worst circumstances that there are. They tackle it head on. They come in strong.”
They have such a passion for their job, some have found joy in spending other parts of their time, teaching a future generation.
“As a latent print examiner, I’m being asked to teach,” Garcia said “Hey you want to teach your discipline? Do you wanna let people know what it is you do and how much you love it?’ And, I enjoy that so much.”
“I took an internship through Texas A&M my senior year and now I teach the course as the instructor,” Barrera said.
A full circle moment for her, Barrera said the division just hired one of her internship students.
Pina gave advice to people looking to enter the crime scene investigation field.
“Make sure you take the English and the writing because we do a lot of writing,” Pina said. “We still have to photograph. We process. When we label things. We have to be specific on each detail of it and all of this is being handwritten. He only thing that is typed is our actual main report.”
Pina said a bachelor's degree in science is preferred.
“Mines in criminal justice,” Pina said. “But two of our CSIs have anthropology degrees.”
If interested in becoming part of the forensics team, click here to apply.