Finding the story evidence reveals Academy members learn different ways to collect, document evidence
By Julie Gerke
Editor’s note: Citizen’s Police Academy is a weekly series by Julie Gerke, who is participating in the local 12-week class that educates adult students on the work and procedures of local law enforcement.
If you’re a fan of crime dramas and think police investigations are wrapped up neatly in 45 minutes with a conviction and moral lesson, think again.
Jacksonville Police Department detectives drove home that point several times during a presentation to the department’s citizen’s police academy, now in its seventh week. Painstaking, time-consuming work is often needed to build a winnable case against criminals, and a lot of that work is built on the back of information developed by officers on routine patrol.
The investigations division is led by JPD (Jacksonville Police Department) Lt. Doug Thompson and includes detectives Kyle Chumley and Luke Poore, plus an investigative aide and an undercover officer assigned to the Central Illinois Enforcement Group.
“But the heart and soul, the filet, in the department is the patrol division,” Thompson said. “Every ounce of information in our records system is through the patrol division.” Officers may speak only briefly to someone on the street, but notes of that interaction build a database of information that “means nothing until it means something.”
Chumley and Poore demonstrated how to dust for and lift fingerprints, and described scrolling through the ‘chum’ of credit card statements to find illegally purchased items. Depending on the type of case, detectives may take hundreds of photographs, make sketches or – like Poore – count by hand more than 5,000 prescription pills. Chumley also discussed how evidence, such as blood spatter, can be used to determine the sequence of a crime.
Fingerprints – the ridges and whorls on our fingers, hands and feet – are impressions created by oil and moisture when we touch something. Some surfaces (like the screen of a cellphone) may easily capture a fingerprint while others (such as wood) may not. The oils and moisture can degrade over time or be affected by dust, or police may find hundreds of prints in public areas such as the front counter at a business or in a motel room, or an unkempt house.
“Using Murphy’s Oil [soap] is just not my clients’ specialty,” Chumley said.
Collecting fingerprints also is complicated when offenders wear gloves or wipe down a surface. So, when Poore finds a usable print in an often-overlooked spot on a stolen car, for example, he exclaimed, “It’s like Christmas! I get so excited.”
Chumley also talked about “stringing,” a long-held forensic practice in which yarn or string is tacked to drops of blood so that math can determine where the impact occurred, the offender’s or victim’s path of travel, and/or the directional swing of a weapon.
Both detectives said they prefer to speak calmly when interviewing suspects, and to speak truthfully. “I never outwardly lie to anyone I’m interviewing,” Chumley said. “I don’t scream and yell. … We have to read people and listen to what they’re saying.”
Most of their work is focused on burglary and theft cases, they said, and many of those are drug-related. Either someone is stealing something to sell, or someone breaks into a car or house where they know drugs are located. “Nobody steals a shovel to go work with,” Chumley said. “They cut off the shovel to sell the metal.”