NewsLocal News


Forensics may not be 'As seen on TV,' but it's critical nonetheless

Posted at 9:17 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 22:19:37-04

They were all over TV in the 2000s -- shows featuring a stoic older man leading his team of forensic scientists. A tough woman in her 30s was his right hand, and three junior officers scoured the crime scene "bagging" evidence.

Not only were they popular then: "CSI" is making a comeback in October.

In the span of an hour, the earnest team would get to a crime scene, collect evidence, go back to the lab, fire off guns to compare bullet casings, interview witnesses and suspects and eventually nail the bad guy with coffee cup tossed at the scene?

It was cool.

It was fast-paced.

Everyone felt a little bit smarter for watching it. How could they not? Everyone in it had a lab coat and used phrases such as "gas chromatograph mass spectrometer."

But Corpus Christi Police Department Crime Lab manager Bob May said the job isn't nearly as cut-and-dry as it looks on TV.

"We don't solve crimes in 45 minutes, with commercial breaks," he said. "While some of those elements, are, in fact true, it's kinda played up and dramatized for television."

David Caruso, Ann Donahue, Anthony Zuiker
'CSI: Miami' actor David Caruso (left), also known as 'Horatio Caine,' has some 'xplainin' to do.

Wait -- Horatio Caine and his sunglasses lied to me?!? Forensic scientists don't conduct high-speed chases across Miami?

"The work that we do is, quite frequently, mostly is pretty tedious," he said. "Watching somebody look through a magnifying glass or a microscope at a piece of evidence or a fingerprint is probably not the most exciting thing that you could see."

OK, fine. So no high-speed chases. But the technology on TV is real, right?


"I've seen on CSI where they'll put in a fingerprint and pull up (a person's) photograph, what they drive, their house, and what they might've had for breakfast," May said with a small smile. "You know, some things like that. That just really isn't the case."

But just because real-life technology isn't as efficient as its TV counterparts doesn't mean that it's not effective.

"Our technology is kind of interesting," May said. "It is starting to kind of catch up with what they portray on TV.

And while some elements on scripted forensics shows are made up, not all of it is.

"If someone uses a crowbar, for example, to break into a safe, frequently they will leave toolmarks, and those can be analyzed," May said. "Fibers and hairs, can also be used in those investigations."

Vintage tools of the trade are on display at the CCPD's Forensics Services Division.

But only if it has a follicle attached, right?

"As long as there's a follicle attached to it," he said.

Handwriting samples are valuable in white-collar cases, such as fraud, and tire marks and shoe impressions can provide valuable, actionable evidence in general.

Physical evidence, May said, has the ability to place someone at a crime scene in the same way it can exclude a suspect from an investigation.

"We can often prove that if, for example, someone's claiming that they were never at a location but we find a fingerprint there, well then, they may have some explaining to do," he said.

Not everything found at a scene will be used to prosecute a crime, but collecting everything possible can make or break one.

"If there are questions, or if we have kinda what we call a 'whodunit,' then forensics, yes, can be very important," he said.

Whew. At least "The Wire" and "whodunits" are real. I knew Bunk Moreland would never lie to me.

Dominic West, Wendell Pierce
Dominic West's "Jimmy McNulty" would absolutely lie to me, but Wendell Pierce -- The Bunk -- nope.