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Behind the crime scene and under the microscope

Posted at 6:04 PM, Jun 12, 2024

Millions of people tune in every day to watch shows like Law and Order, True Detective, and Dexter. Episode after episode, audiences see forensic technicians collecting evidence in vials and plastic bags.

Today, WMAR-2 News got a chance to go into the lab with the Baltimore County Police Department’s Forensic Services Section. There, we learned more about the role it plays in solving crimes. The process is much more detailed than what we see on our screens.

“If a police officer requests crime scene [evidence], we come out and assist them on a crime. Our crime scene unit responds out to the location and typically documents that by photographing, sketching, measuring, and collecting different types of evidence,” says Jason Birchfield, Baltimore County Forensic Scientist Supervisor.

“The items ultimately end up in our unit, where we examine them. We examine firearms, bullets, and cartridge cases to determine if they were fired from a particular gun or not. We also do serial number restorations, and we enter cartridge cases and test fires from guns into a database called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and try to link them up to other shootings.”

Perhaps the crown jewel of TV show police evidence is fingerprints. We got our hands on that process as well. No pun intended.

“What we do is analyze latent fingerprints recovered from the crime scenes," says Joyce Baker, Latent Examiner Supervisor.

“We either want to eliminate a person or positively identify a person, or exclude a person. Once the prints are recovered from the crime scenes, we analyze them to see if they are of value, and if they are of value, we do a comparison on those prints. Once cases come into the unit, what we have is a documentation system. Once we scan the case folders into this system, we do all of our analysis, comparisons, and reporting here. We have a database called the NGI system that is also in there, which is a FBI system. We search based upon the criteria of a finger or a palm. It doesn’t search by name, sex, or race. It’s strictly by fingerprints.”