Characteristics of a crime scene
A crime scene is recognised as being the location where an illegal act took place and can also be the person who is the victim of the actual crime committed. Not all crimes are ranked as serious; a crime can be a relatively minor matter, but it is still a crime.
A crime scene can be anywhere from a supermarket to pubs or clubs, stadiums, theatres, cinemas, tourist attractions, subways, railway stations, public transport, homes, hotels, sheds, garages and even places of worship. Absolutely anywhere at all.
Therefore, it is reasonable to recognise that literally anyone could be the first person to discover the crime. Knowing how to correctly protect the scene can help protect people and assist the authorities in their actions.
Characteristics of a crime scene are the particular or typical features that are commonly associated with a particular crime or a specific scene. This could relate to the offender themselves, particularly where someone repeatedly commits the same crime, as they characteristically use the same tactics, the same ‘mode of operation’.
Common characteristics of a crime scene may include:
- Bloodstains or splatters at the scene of violent crime
- Glass fragments at burglaries
- Stolen items hidden when shoplifting and smuggling
- Evidence of drugs deals which are often committed in pubs and clubs
- Evidence of burglaries which are often committed at night
- Crowds of people which can attract street crime
- Assaults which are regularly committed in pubs and clubs
- The environment such as water or dust which can damage fingerprints
- Victims and witnesses acting emotionally.
Recognising the characteristics of a crime scene helps identify the steps to be taken to protect the scene, but we must remember that whatever your role, you must always ensure your own safety and the safety of others when preserving a crime scene.
A lockdown is the term used to describe the recommended actions to take to help preserve the scene of a crime. Lockdown means just that, to close the scene off, to help preserve life and help ensure that things that may have value as evidence are not moved, removed, destroyed or contaminated. There are six steps to a Lockdown:
1. Create a secure and sterile perimeter – use whatever is available to help create a secure perimeter and help keep the crime scene sterile, for example doors, rope or if possible tape, tables, chairs or desks, or even work colleagues or trusted personnel (but only if it is safe to do so). CCTV can also be an effective tool.
2. Deter unauthorised entry – give instructions that no one should enter the crime scene. Remember your safety is important.
3. Establish only one point of entry – identify the most easily accessible point of entry and seal all others. Position yourself at this point. This task may be delegated to trusted personnel.
4. Log all personnel – create a log which is a record of events and personnel referring to the crime scene. The log keeper must record everyone including police and other agencies. They are also expected to communicate with the agencies and deter unnecessary entry. To create the log, use any available materials; paper, books or boxes, consider using pencils instead of pens as pens are likely not to work when wet. Mobile phones can be effective for note-taking and can also be used to take photographs or movies. Remember, all logs have evidential value and become exhibits themselves, therefore their security must be ensured.
5. Prevent scene disturbance – all the above actions will help prevent the disturbance of anything considered to be of evidential value. A common mistake of such a disturbance is staff members cleaning or clearing materials away. In offices employees may be conscious of the need to protect data and in licensed premises cleaning is commonly ongoing.
6. Deter the removal of any items – deter the removal of any items from the crime scene, particularly items that have been used in the commission of the crime, such as knives, screwdrivers or jemmies and may include first-aid equipment. The aim of the lockdown is to preserve life and the crime scene.