The Race to Step Ahead of the Criminals

11:37 PM, Nov 14, 2012   |    comments
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Richland County, SC (WLTX) - For anyone who has been doing their job for 30 years or so, you've probably seen a few changes over the years. For Richland County deputies and forensic scientists, most days look nothing like they did when they first chose their career.

The crime lab has become star of screen and real life case-solving. But for Forensic Scientist John Barron, it's an entirely different workspace than the one he started his career in 30 year ago. "When I first started, we could not take any biological material and determine whether it was male or female," he explains, "When I first started, all we did was ABO blood-typing."

Upstairs in Investigations, Major Stan Smith has seen monumental changes since he first received his badge in 1984. "If you were working a burglary and you developed a suspect, you had to find out if he had a record, you had to pull his fingerprint card and then you had to hand the card to a forensics examiner and have him do a one on one match," he says. 

All that changed with computers, of course - to send incident reports and crime scene pictures with the click of a mouse. Recalls Sheriff Leon Lott, "Far as processing the crime scene, there wasn't much. You'd have an old camera that you'd have to take the pictures and the lab back then would have its own dark room, you'd have to develop your pictures."

It's a race between law enforcement and the criminals, to out-do the other with skills never before imagined, needed. "You got on the scene you did it all," says Lott, "Now you have people who are specialized. That original officer is going to secure the scene and call in the experts that know the crime scene, the CSI people. It's wide open. Whatever your interest is, there's something in law enforcement that's going to meet that interest."

Despite the way it's all entered into the computer, there is one element that Smith says will never change though. "The same old process as far as the way we always did interviews, because people will still you the truth about what they did. But they won't if you don't talk to them," he explains. 

Back in the forensics lab there's not a lot of conversation, just the whirr of machines. "Human beings get tired, human beings have to take breaks. robots don't," Barron laughs, then explains a machine, "Many times we'll set this up just before we leave in the evening and by the morning it's all finished. It's done all that work while we haven't done anything but sleep."

The scientific breakthroughs increase the lab's productivity, making way for even more innovations in catching the bad guys. Says Barron, "Our tests are for the truth."

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