Crime and forensic shows are very popular on television, and many people believe they have a thorough understanding of investing crime scenes based on what they’ve seen. We like to call this phenomenon the CSI effect.
However, there are significant differences between Hollywood and real life when it comes to crime scene processing that you only learn from actually working in the field. This is especially true in regards to evidence transfer in criminal investigations. So, while shows like CSI and Law & Order are fun to watch, here are some examples of how television portrayal differs from actual crime scene work.
One of the most obvious differences between TV and real-life crime scenes is the amount of time it takes to conduct evidence tests. To appease curious viewers, the results of evidence tests are often revealed on the spot in television shows.
In reality, these types of crime scene processing tests can take several weeks to process and yield results. DNA samples, for examples, often require dozens of hours of lab work, and collected samples often don’t always result in a match when they are too small or badly preserved.
Another key detail of crime scene processing in TV shows that bothers people who work in this industry is the lack of chain of custody documentation and recording. Chain of custody is so important while investigating real crime scenes, yet it is usually glossed over or omitted completely in television portrayals.
Admittedly, chain of custody isn’t very exciting to watch on TV. But the use of chain of custody forms and secure evidence bags is one of the most effective ways to win a case and put guilty criminals behind bars.
Although the quality and capacity of crime scene evidence technology has made leaps and bounds in recent years, there are still limitations to what it can do. Many television viewers enjoy believing that anything is possible with modern technology and that high-tech solutions are the answer to solving every complex crime.
However, TV shows have given viewers unrealistic expectations about what technology can do, how extensive it can be, and how decisive forensic science really is. That level of glamour and excitement while using technology in crime scene processing isn’t always there in real life, especially with mundane tasks that don’t yield the desired results.
In television shows, the main characters are often “Jacks” or “Jills” of all trades who handle every aspect of evidence collection, investigative work, and even interrogation. However, this is simply not the way things work in most jurisdictions in the U.S. It’s practically impossible to do everything all at once, and there are many professionals who have separately important roles to play in the process of investigating crime scenes and facilitating crime scene processing. For example, detectives rarely analyze evidence, and crime scene investigators are rarely active participants in criminal investigations.
Think about all of this next time you watch a crime show on television and see how many differences you can point out between your favorite characters’ acting and real life!Back to Blog