Crime-Scene Vehicles
Written by Kristi Mayo   

PLANNING and SPECIFYING
your new crime-scene vehicle


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(ABOVE) Walworth County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin took care when designing its new vehicle to equip it for response in rural areas. One of the things they requested were the stainless-steel countertops in this photo. Emergency Vehicles, Inc. (EVI) of Lake Park, Florida was the vendor. To see what it is that they have to offer, you can go to their website:
www.evi-fl.com

(ABOVE) Syracuse (New York) Police Department was looking for a vehicle to use when responding to major crime scenes. They needed one that could carry all of the equipment they might need at any one time—and the one shown here fit their needs precisely. The vendor was a prominent supplier of such vehicles: La Boit, Inc. of Gahanna, Ohio.
www.LaBoit.com

(ABOVE) St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department is located near St. Louis, Missouri. It is a fast-growing community and has some wide-ranging responsibilities. They designed their vehicle so they could be almost entirely self-sufficient when working a crime scene. Brown Specialty Vehicles of Lawrence, Kansas was the vendor that worked with them to produce their ready-for-anything vehicle.
www.BrownSpecialtyVehicles.com

(ABOVE) When Connecticut State Police needed a new van for the State Fire Marshal, they chose to work closely with Odyssey Automotive Specialty of Wharton, New Jersey. To see part of the company’s wide range of vehicle designs, go to their website:
www.OdysseyAuto.com

(ABOVE) Mobile Concepts by Scotty, a company based in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania offers a variety of floorplans and options that are designed with crime-scene investigation units in mind. You can check them out at:
www.MobileConcepts.com

 

THE FORMS OR LAYOUTS that crime-scene vehicles take are just as varied as the ways they are used and the budgets that help them get built. Some crime-scene investigators carry the basic tools they need in the trunk of a four-door sedan. Other response teams equip a van to store the assortment of equipment frequently used in the field. And still others have a large, walk-in vehicle that provides storage, ample workspace, and climate-controlled protection from the elements.

When your agency decides that it is time to get one of those larger vehicles for response to major crime scenes, the next step—actually planning and specifying the unit—can be a little intimidating. There are a lot of manufacturers who build specialty vehicles and there are many different designs available. There may be features you know you can live without (such as the refrigerator with an icemaker), others that you know you need (a fume hood for on-scene fingerprint processing), and a few that seem logical to you—but that your administrator may not quite understand (such as a restroom with running hot and cold water).

This article highlights the experiences and advice from three law-enforcement professionals who were involved in the specification of their agencies’ crime-scene vehicles. Each vehicle is slightly different in the way it was built and the way it is actually used in the field, but there are a few common threads of advice that emerged from our conversations. One of the key starting points is this: Know exactly what you want—and then ask for it.

Mostly rural with a
population around 100,000

Walworth County Sheriff’s Department in Wisconsin serves an almost exclusively rural population. There is also a large amount of tourist traffic that is attracted by the county’s lakes.

Detective David J. Fladten said the agency took delivery on a new crime-scene vehicle in June 2005 from Emergency Vehicles, Inc. (EVI). The unit has a 24-ft. body mounted to a Kenworth T300 chassis. (See top two photos on Page 19.)

“It was designed primarily for responding to and remaining at crime scenes for extended periods of time,” said Fladten, who was very involved in the planning and specification of the crime-scene vehicle. “We have been on scenes with this vehicle for as long as three days, and it worked out extremely well.”

The front one-third of the module was designed as a space that can be used as office space, interview area, or a general area for operations. “We could also use that area as a command center and a mobile-communications center, because of the radio equipment we had installed,” added Fladten.

A sliding door separates the front one-third of the vehicle from the other two-thirds of the layout, used exclusively for working scenes, processing evidence, and packaging evidence. A fume hood with an exhaust fan was also installed in the vehicle to allow for chemical fuming.

“We did all stainless-steel countertops for ease of cleaning,” Fladten said. “I wish we had a little more interior cabinet space, but every available nook and cranny is taken up with storage of some type.” Fladten also chose diamond-plate flooring because of its easy cleaning and durability.

Because the unit often responds to rural scenes, Fladten designed the back doors to swing wide enough to accommodate a four-wheeler. With the addition of special ramps, a four-wheeler can be driven right up into the back of the crime-scene vehicle. “We could use the same ramps if we wanted to steer a wheel barrow—or any type of wheeled device—into the back of the truck,” added Fladten.

One of the most important aspects of the crime-scene vehicle’s design, according to Fladten, is its ability to keep personnel comfortable for long periods of time. Climate control, a galley—featuring a sink, microwave, and refrigerator—and a restroom allow personnel to enjoy the comforts of their office while in the field. Fladten said this benefit is easily overlooked.

“In my opinion, that bathroom has paid for itself in reducing downtime—time someone might otherwise spend driving around looking for a facility,” said Fladten. “That was a little bit of a tough sell during the planning stage, but nobody regrets it.”

When asked what he would say to someone who is getting started with planning and specifying a crime-scene vehicle, Fladten advised looking ahead to the future. “Always go bigger than you think you need today,” he said. “I really think that you need to anticipate long-term needs.”

Fladten had other advice: “Make sure the users are involved in the plan-ning process. The administrative and command staff must be involved, of course. But they alone should not be making design and layout plans since they are not the ones who will be working the vehicle. The people who are going to be using the vehicle must be an integral part of the planning process. I really believe in that strongly.”

Major municipal area with
about four major cases a month

The Syracuse Police Department in New York was recently looking for a vehicle that could be used to respond to major crime scenes—one that could carry all the equipment they needed in one load, and something personnel could use to escape from the elements. After obtaining a grant for a vehicle that would meet those basic needs, team members started looking around and liked what they saw in the products that are produced by La Boit, Inc. According to Sergeant John Linnertz, part of the way through the planning process a demonstration vehicle used by La Boit was made available for sale.

“It had most of the features that we were looking for, and it could be adapted to the things that we wanted to add or delete,” said Linnertz. “There was also a significant savings by going with the demo.”

In January of 2009, the department took delivery on their new crime-scene vehicle. The 24-ft. truck features a La Boit body on a Ford E450 chassis. (See bottom two photos on Page 20.) Inside, there is extensive cabinetry for storage of specialized equipment, counter space for setting up equipment, and a refrigerator for evidence.

“There is climate control for air-conditioning and heating, which is a major benefit in our area. We have the potential for extremely cold winters with large amounts of snow, and the summers are hot and humid. So it is a good place to escape the elements,” said Linnertz.

Because the vehicle was a demo, there were a few changes requested by the police department. For example, an evidence locker was included in the original design—but Linnertz said they requested that it be removed and replaced with another option that was a higher priority since since evidence is not routinely stored in the vehicle and the vehicle is always secured by lock and/or an officer when it is on-site.

“The people at La Boit were very good at making the changes we needed,” said Linnertz. “The vehicle has a very modular design, and they could make almost anything we needed.”

When asked if he had any advice for someone thinking about making plans for their own new crime-scene vehicle, Linnertz offered this: “Spend some time with a good layout and carefully size your equipment—so that when it’s time to specify spatially, it is appropriate for your equipment and personnel needs.”

Mixed suburban and rural area
in a major metro area

Located on the northern outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri, St. Charles County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. The St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department is available to assist municipalities within the county as well as the two neighboring counties of Lincoln and Warren. With these wide-ranging responsibilities, the department needed a crime-scene vehicle that would be ready for just about anything.

“We designed this vehicle so that we can go out and be self-sufficient,” said Sergeant Michael KinKade of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Depart-ment Forensic Services Division. In August 2008, they took delivery from Brown Specialty Vehicles of a GMC 5500 commercial-chassis truck that has an overall length of 24 ft. from bumper to bumper. (See bottom two photos on Page 19.) Previously, the department had an old recreational vehicle that they used when responding to crime scenes for an extended period of time. “But the purpose that we put together for this truck was specifically for crime-scene usage,” said KinKade. “We have it set up so that it has a laboratory in the back. We can do a lot of evidence processing right then and there.”

Features onboard include a television with an antenna for receiving local-area broadcasting; a restroom; interior and exterior 120-volt power outlets; and a cyanoacrylate fuming hood. Primarily, however, the vehicle is set up with interior and external storage space that allows them to store equipment for just about any conceivable crime-scene need.

“And, I mean, we carry everything in it: the DeltaSphere-3000 (which is a 3D laser imaging device), fingerprint tape, gun boxes, sexual-assault kits, alternate light sources, different fingerprint kits, video cameras, and more.”

Having the ability to process the evidence on scene is a time-saver, he added. “Take, for instance, the cyanoacrylate fuming hood,” said KinKade. “That’s so we can go ahead and preserve fingerprints that we find. Plus, there are some things that we may go ahead and fume, but if we can see that there are absolutely no fingerprints on it after we have fumed it, we will leave it—because there is no need to take it with us.”

When asked if he had any words of advice to other people who are thinking about designing a new crime-scene vehicle, KinKade echoed the thoughts of Linnertz and Fladten. “Spec it out exactly the way you want it. If you don’t specify exactly how you want it, what you write down in your bid specs or your proposals will be what you get,” said KinKade.

“You need to have a precise idea of how you are going to be using the truck in the field. Once you have that information, you need to sit down with a designer or somebody who builds these trucks on a daily basis—and they can tell you exactly what is needed to build the truck.”


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED:
"Planning and Specifying Your New Crime-Scene Vehicle," written by Kristi Mayo
March-April 2009 (Volume 7, Number 2)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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