Applied CSI Training Leaves Its Mark in the Field
Written by Jamie Fox   

In May 2010, Investigator Jennie Garcia, a crime scene examiner with the North Richland Hills police department in Texas responded to a robbery at a local bank. No one was injured and the perpetrator had already fled the scene when police arrived, getting away with a substantial amount of the bank’s cash. Investigator Garcia took the lead in investigating the case.


Evidence photograph of right thumb print on paper dusted with magnetic fingerprint powder

The clever criminal used a non-violent approach to pull off the heist, posing as an employee from another branch.

“He left a bunch of paperwork there that he was using as his way to get in,” Garcia indicated. The paperwork included a falsified bank ID and documents printed on the bank’s letterhead.

Quickly accepted by bank employees, the perpetrator used a plausible ruse to gain access to large sums of cash – a search of serial numbers for possible counterfeit bills.

“What he said was there had been [a report of] counterfeit bills and he was looking for certain serial numbers,” she said, “and that allowed him to have them pull quite a bit of money out of the safe.”

After bank staff made a substantial amount of cash available for examination, it was time to take the money and run. However, in his speedy exit, he left his paperwork behind. It was that paperwork, carelessly discarded in the course of the crime, that would eventually take him down.


Investigator Jennie Garcia processing latent fingerprints during the Intermediate Crime Scene Investigation training course at NFSTC

“Knowing that he had left [the paperwork] there and we were there immediately afterwards, the very first thing I did, even before [dusting] the entryway, was to dust that paperwork with magnetic powder to see what I could find. And there was an absolutely beautiful right thumb print,” said Garcia.

The right thumb print she found was nearly perfect and accompanied by several other prints on the same documents. She also dusted the countertop where the paperwork was left with standard fingerprint powder, and collected those prints with a gel lifter.

Using magnetic power to locate latent prints on paper is not a common practice due to paper’s absorptive qualities. Garcia learned the technique while attending the Essentials of Crime Scene Investigation (ECSI) training course at the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) in Largo, Florida. Instructor Scott Campbell demonstrated the collection method, stressing that the technique is suitable only when the prints are known to be fresh.

“You had to know they were fresh; it couldn’t be an assumption,” Garcia recalled. In this case, she knew the prints were left not more than an hour before. “Lifting fresh prints with magnetic powder off of paper…it makes sense; they’re fresh, they [oils and sweat from friction ridges] haven’t had time to soak in,” said Garcia.

After ECSI, Garcia took both the magnetic powder on paper and the gel lifter techniques back to her agency, and just over a month later, the robbery occurred. She described the benefit of using the magnetic powder technique during this investigation as “…you get a comparable quality print very quickly, also dusting provides a stronger print for comparison.” And police wanted this perpetrator stopped quickly, before he hit another bank.

The investigation hit a snag when the thumbprint returned no hits in the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). “We ran it through AFIS and didn’t get anything. Turns out he had never been in trouble before. We finally got a tip on a possible suspect and I had our analyst pull his driver’s license thumbprints,” she indicated. Investigator Garcia was able to use the fingerprints from the suspect’s driver’s license for comparison with the thumbprint collected at the scene. The prints were consistent and the suspect was arrested and convicted. Investigator Garcia’s out-of-the box thinking, sparked by an innovative technique taught during the ECSI course, helped close the case.

Garcia has completed three courses at NFSTC, two on general crime scene investigation, including ECSI and the follow-on course Intermediate Crime Scene Investigation, and one on finding and collecting biological evidence. As a trainer herself, she is able to take back information from courses such as these to build or enhance training programs at her own agency. When asked about the value of the training she attended at NFSTC, Garcia stated, “This is fast and furious. This is not sitting in a class three times a week and then having a lab once a week.”

NFSTC’s crime scene investigation program, which included Essentials of Crime Scene Investigation and Intermediate Crime Scene Investigation, was funded through cooperative agreements with the National Institute of Justice. The courses, delivered successively, provided training to professionals on industry best practices and emerging technology, and served as a forum for participants to share information and network with peers.

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is a communication specialist at the National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo, Florida. She is a business and technical writer with more than 13 years of experience developing and editing technical, journalistic, and multimedia content including technical reports, scientific posters, and articles, white papers, Web content, photojournalistic content, and business and grant proposals.

NFSTC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization specializing in training, technology assistance and consulting for the forensic science, law enforcement and military communities. For more information about training opportunities, programs and customized solutions, contact NFSTC at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 
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