This month, the Salt River Police Department (SRPD) is spotlighting its crime scene specialist (CSS) position as a way to increase awareness about the individual divisions within the police department.
The crime scene specialist position provides the foundation of crime scene investigation and preservation of evidence from crimes. Each crime is unique, and all details need to be recorded in order for the police to reconstruct the crime and allow the crime scene to tell the story of what occurred.
Crime scene specialists focus on all aspects of the physical crime scene, from photographing the scene to collecting the smallest details as possible evidence.
This includes collecting and preserving biological evidence, latent fingerprints and tool mark evidence. They utilize various tools and resources, including special powders, chemical solutions and forensic light sources, to identify and process evidence. Additionally, they not only use conventional photography, but utilize various lenses and filters resulting in identification of biological evidence that would otherwise go unnoticed.
All of this allows for the SRPD to re-create the crime and assist in identifying the perpetrator(s) and bringing them to justice. Crime scene specialists play a critical role in protecting and serving the community.
A Demanding Job
Currently, the SRPD only has one crime scene specialist on board. After the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s voluntary separation package a few years ago, the staff of four crime scene specialists became a staff of one.
“It changed my on-call status from every other week to 24/7,” said SRPD Crime Scene Specialist Rachelle Marquez. “I have over 300 hours of annual leave, and I can’t take it. And when I do try to take it, I end up coming in because something happens on my day off. It’s a very demanding job. I respond to major crime scenes such as car accidents, homicides, stabbings, robberies, burglaries, property crimes and drive-bys.”
Marquez has been working for the SRPD as a crime scene specialist for the last nine years. Originally she wanted to go to art school for photography, but while in a relationship with an aspiring law-enforcement student, she found herself developing an interest in the area.
“I was at the bookstore with my boyfriend, who was studying to become a police officer, and while looking at books I came across this book of crime scenes called Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook. This book grabbed my attention and I realized there was a career in crime scene investigation. This was before the big [TV] show CSI and those other investigation shows,” said Marquez.
She started her education at Scottsdale Community College, taking the crime scene investigations course. Two months before she competed the certificate program, she was hired on at the SRPD.
“Even then I thought I was experienced enough, but on my first day I went to process a vehicle for a homicide. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t. There is a lot to know and there is a lot of communication that goes around. You have to communicate with a lot of officers, detectives, other agencies and labs just to get through one scene,” said Marquez. “You have to be able to work in small and confined spaces; you’re suited up in 100-degree weather. It also gets cold out here, [and you’re working] in rain, on Christmas … it doesn’t matter. If you just finished a 10-hour shift, two hours later you get a call that you still have to come out. It takes a toll on your body.”
Marquez is Navajo, and because of that tribe’s cultural beliefs about being around death, it took a lot of convincing of her family for her to do this job. But she performs her duties just as anyone else does in any other career.
“You get interested in the science and how things come together. I have my days; I have some scenes where it does bothers me, and there is only so much I can do, but [the] thing is you’re there for somebody,” said Marquez. “My first body was of a baby; I think this was about three weeks after I was hired. This was a deal-breaker for me; if I couldn’t handle this [case], then this [job] wasn’t for me. But I don’t know how I do it—you’re so into what you have to do, you have to do so many things and pay attention, write stuff down, and be very detailed.”
Marquez suits up before proceeding to protect her from chemicals used in her job and biohazard conditions, as well as to prevent cross-contamination of the crime scene.
Mock Crime Scene
Marquez explained how she would find traces of blood by demonstrating BlueStar Blood Revealing Spray on a mock blood sample. The spray turns blood traces fluorescent in the dark.
She explained, “Let’s say I have a shirt with a dark stain, but I don’t know it’s blood—it’s just a dark stain that could be taco sauce or a soda spill. Let’s just say the suspect in an earlier crime was wearing this black shirt; [after they committed the crime], they went into a house or vehicle to try to dispose of their shirt.
“Later, we find a black shirt and we want to see if the earlier victim’s blood is on the shirt.” Marquez sprays the stained shirt with the BlueStar spray and the stain starts to glow, finding the blood, which can then be sent out to be tested for DNA (in this mock test Marquez used a synthetic blood).
“That [information] can affect somebody’s life. This person is going to be convicted, and as far as the earlier victim is concerned, their family wants justice for that victim. It becomes very important to you. I think that’s how I get over [the difficulty of the crime scenes] because you’re thinking about so many things other than the body that is in front of you,” explained Marquez.