All too often police officers are overlooked for the things they do as first responders at a crime scene, but it is their initial observations and actions that propel a case to either succeeding in court, or failing dismally. The various roles of police officers are (as) first responders is discussed in this brief narrative, as well as the duties that are associated with each. Crime scene investigators also receive much negative criticism from the media and general public from a rather uneducated, biased viewpoint. The role of crime scene investigators is examined, along with the duties given as truth seekers in criminal cases. The Fourth Amendment is applied to both the first response of a criminal act to the successful investigation. Perhaps a better understanding of law enforcement is established through nothing more than a change of perspective while standing in the stead of an officer.
Police officers have many responsibilities that are largely dependent on the size of the department and the resources therein. Large agencies with hundreds to thousands of police officers have various departments that allows for a more thorough, specialized attention within the department. Smaller departments are handicapped in a much different way, with often rookie patrol officers being the first responders and investigators of some major crimes. The parallel of first responder to crime scene investigator is sometimes non-existent as the two intersect often in the realm of limited budgets, manpower, and plain apathy towards the job. It suffices to say that there are many police officers who make better crime scene investigators than full-time investigators and there are many crime scene investigators who would make better patrol officers.
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State and federal departments that hold much of the weight in crime scene analysis, forensics, and specialized agents are much to thank for the gathering of justice for victims. These departments are often overworked and underfunded, as seems to be the case of the entire criminal justice system as a whole. When a major case comes in existence, the state and federal departments get involved, often taking command of the scene when they arrive from local municipalities. It is this command of authority that shows professionalism, as the responsibility of the crime is now in the hands of trained professionals that are accepting this task for the successful conviction of an offender, or letting one slip through the cracks.
If one walks into a bank to speak to someone about a financial problem, they will often be first met by a bank teller who will then analyze the need and refer them to an appropriate source with more knowledge and capabilities. The law enforcement world reacts to criminal applications equally. First response of a crime scene is often met by health services personnel, but is most often established first with police officers, specifically patrol officers. It is the duty of a police officer to: receive and apply education of criminality, analyze the scene for danger to self and public, clear (the) scene of danger, contact necessary personnel to adequately and professionally deal with the scene, protect the scene, collect evidence, analyze evidence, consider possible outcomes, and then take everything to court and solidify justice for the community and victims. All of these responsibilities take a criminal case from start to finish, as a police officer should have imbedded the mindset of thinking about beyond a reasonable doubt rather than reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Police officers must stay current on technology, legal, and practical applications in regards to law enforcement and crime scene investigation. An officer can gain knowledge from sheer experience and no formal education, but the price of this knowledge is seen in the wake of victims who did not receive justice because of mistakes. Officers who are without a college education are more likely to have founded complaints and administrative action taken against them than officers with a two or four year degree (Manis, Archbold, & Hassell, 2008). While this statistic does not clearly define an officer's ability to do their job when it comes to criminal investigation, it could be argued that the officer with less founded complaints and problems inner-department is more knowledgeable, squared-away, and competent in handling situations that arise making them a superior first responder. It does little good to have knowledge, however, if it is not utilized.
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Police officers have the difficult task of quickly evaluating a situation and making a judgment from this very brief analysis of a scene. These decisions hold with them the power of life and death, for not only the officer making them, but fellow officers and the public being safeguarded. The profession of a police offer has been described as a handicraft, with the true value being held in an officer's knowledge, tact, and common sense application (Holgersson & Gottschalk, 2008). When arriving on a scene, a police officer quickly discovers that what was dispatched is not at all what is actually going on. A call for a vehicle unlock turns into an officer fighting a subject to place him under arrest. A call for a disturbance with no weapons turns into a deadly fight with multiple guns. An officer has at times, split seconds, to make a decision on whether to pursue flight, engage in a fight, or the ultimate decision to use deadly force on another show of deadly force.
It is the police officer's responsibility to ask for needed assistance, appropriately use that assistance, and make a scene safe for all officers, emergency personnel, and members of the public and outside agencies. Building clearance requires multiple personnel working together to stay safe and thoroughly complete the task at hand. There is too much to lose to miss something or someone, as there is to not be completely focused and competent in the building search. This application of police knowledge and experience is especially valuable to crime scene investigators, as the scene not only needs to be safe but needs to remain unaltered by police personnel as much as possible.
Once a scene has been cleared and deemed safe, the necessary personnel preferably should have already been contacted. It is important to hand over the scene to the most experienced, knowledgeable person available unless extenuating circumstances exist. State and Federal departments often will send trained personnel who will take command of a crime scene and proceed with the investigation, and it is the police officer's duty to assist in any way asked. The scene of a crime is not the place to show authority or battle for respect, the respect is earned by efficiently and competently doing one's job and knowing when to delegate responsibilities.
The presence of mind should always be beyond a reasonable doubt, over all else. Police officers think too much on reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop or investigation, and then see probable cause as the end of the line. The police officer should always be considering arguments that will be made in court, and how to succeed when it comes to the battle of court. Documentation is the first line of defense when it comes to court, and is arguably the most important task a police officer does to ensure justice. Knowledge and dependability in the job is just as important, because if an officer gets on the stand to testify and seems to know not of what they charged and are saying, the judge along with attorneys, jurors, and other law enforcement are less likely to believe what occurred. While the United States' courts have come a long ways when it comes to officer's testimony and disclosure to the defense, the occurrence of law enforcement dishonesty remains an appearing figure in the court (Ashmen, 1982).
Crime scene investigators have the troubling task of gaining information before, during, and after an investigation. It is not the simple collection of fingerprints, shoe molds, and bloodied clothing that constitutes all a crime scene investigator does, nor is it snap-shooting the scene with a digital camera. Investigators must remain current on case law and understand the principles of interview and interrogation. Special attention must be paid to Fourth amendment rights, which will be discussed shortly. When it was said that police officer's most important defense is their documentation, the same is equally true with crime scene investigators. The amount of paperwork that goes into even the smallest of cases is astounding when the job is done correctly. It takes motivated, intelligent individuals to really thrive as an investigator, and it takes the right personality to get subjects who start out resistant, to talk to law enforcement.
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It is the job of a crime scene investigator to place in either their hands or the hands of a police officer, the necessary tools of knowledge needed to have a successful interrogation. It is not likely that someone will confess if the person interrogating them is completely unknowledgeable about the event (Leo & Liu, 2009). It takes a collaborative effort of police officers as first responders, crime scene investigators as truth seekers, and the law enforcement community as a whole to elicit a freely given, true confession.
Technological advances and progressing case law, crime scene investigators have to remain up-to-date on current practices or they will likely see a decline in the number of convictions in their caseload. Proper chain of custody practices are amongst the highest fought defenses, along with the record of a crime scene and the subjects present. It is not enough to simply say that it was just police officers and investigators at a scene, there must be proper documentation done by both parties involved as to who was there, when they got there and left, and where they were. It makes the job of an investigator difficult, but brings about a high level of merit to the job they do when it is done right.
Fourth amendment rights involve the unlawful search and seizure of an individual, and these rights are placed into question in almost every law enforcement interaction with a member of the general public. From a routine traffic stop to a formal interview, the rights of citizens must be recognized and held sacred. It is not enough to have a suspicion of illegal activity to invade someone's expectation of reasonable privacy. The duty of police officers and crime scene investigators is to find and convict offenders while protecting the innocent. It is the responsibility of both officer and investigator to withhold prejudice and predisposition from any decision or action. This duty belongs to members of the criminal justice community because Fourth Amendment rights are among the most important rights that exist in this Nation. The right of freedom, possessing properties, and maintaining privacy is essential to what makes humankind special (Taslitz, 2003).
Police officers face a dynamically changing environment from changes in law, community interaction, political affiliation, and support. Crime scene investigators are equally pressured as the meticulous work in preparing, analyzing, and documenting a crime scene are no easy task. It remains the responsibility of law enforcement professionals to remain unbiased in the face of adversity, and maintain reasoning that transcends all forms of troubles that are associated with the profession. The communities that are served by members of the law enforcement community and criminal justice system need to embrace the working professionals that are there to help them, while forgiving the system as a whole for the misguiding of a few bad members.