Product Review: Crime Scene Assistant
Written by Maria C. Pettolina   

DEVELOPED BY EXPERIENCED crime scene investigators, Crime Scene Assistant is a smartphone app developed to be a pocket quick-reference guide for first responders to help maintain the integrity of a crime scene. According to the developers, “The app is a concept that has been brought to life as a result of personal field experience, and an acknowledgement that forensic awareness on the frontline is imperative.”

This article appeared in the September-October 2020 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that full issue here.

Crime Scene Assistant
Apple ($6.99) | Android ($7.49)

The developers with Crime Scene Assist Ltd. intend for the app to be useful to all front-line responders, including police officers, fire-department personnel, medics, fraud investigators, and security officers. The app provides guidance in a simple, offline format that can be accessed at any time, right on the user’s smartphone.

In addition, a new licensed version of the app has been developed that allows educators and employers to purchase the app in bulk (at a discounted rate) for the education of students, new recruits, and employees. Crime Scene Assist Ltd. is also working to develop online training courses that build on and support the knowledgebase in the app.

Quick Impressions
Overall, I found this application useful as a basic refresher of “what to do” on scene, but not as a guide on “how to do it”. I think this application would serve as a helpful resource to accompany a training program for students and new first responders. For example, this would be incredibly helpful for students or new trainees to use as a checklist when working a mock crime scene to help build muscle memory.

I do not find it overly helpful, or feasible, for crime scene investigators (CSIs) to use on scene. But, in reviewing this application, it does not present itself for use by CSIs, but instead for other first responders discussed below.

A Closer Look
The user is expected to have baseline knowledge before using the application. When the application is downloaded, the user needs to acknowledge a “Basic Awareness of Forensics”. The application reminds the user that the information is used to support as an aide-mémoir and reference tool, not an alternative for training. It also requires the user to sign off on a liability statement.

The application was easy to navigate with simple options. There were three main options to select: a HOME button, a CONTACT button, and a MORE button that allows the user to view the terms and conditions. The user will mostly function from the HOME button.

Once the HOME button is selected, four main categories populate: Police, Medic, Fire, and Other Responders. The application’s tagline reads “Making Forensic Awareness Second Nature for First Responders”. My initial expectation was to see a CSI category and perhaps some much-needed reminders on how to document bloodstains or bullet holes (hence the Crime Scene Assistant name). These are areas of forensics we as CSIs are trained on, but since we sometimes have the luxury of slowing down, the application could serve as a friendly reminder. I will admit I have absolutely googled how to mix chemicals or mix casting material while on a crime scene. But… this is not a CSI application.

I was impressed with the organization of the steps and the information contained in the checklists. It is clear that a team of forensic experts developed this application. The creators of this application undeniably have experience in forensics and CSI. As a CSI and educator, I want to have confidence in the expertise of the creators when I do recommend this to students and other first responders.

The website states it is developed in the United Kingdom, so I understand some titles and terms may differ from what we are accustomed to in the United States. There are also terms and acronyms on the application that I was not immediately familiar with.

To give you a better understanding of the usefulness of the application, I will offer you a visual on how the application functions. Once you select a category—for example, Police—four steps populate. Although the steps for each category are similar, they do differ by what type of first responder you select. For example, if you select the Medic option, there is an additional step of Sexual Offenses. In this step, it allows users in the UK to find a hospital and follow a flow chart for these special cases.

Applications for the App
Again, I found this application to be helpful as a resource for a training program, but I do not find it feasible as far as using it on a crime scene. Police, fire, medics, and other first responders often are called to hectic and high-stress events. I do not find it practical for the first responder to open this application and start running down a checklist during an active scene. If the first responder needs to do that, they should not be on the crime scene without a trainer or supervision.

If the application is incorporated into a training program, the first responder would be familiar with the information and could review the checklists after the crime scene to see if they missed a checkbox, or to consider if they need future additional training.

I did very much appreciate the “Information for the CSI” step that was on the Police checklist. This checklist was provided for the police officer as a way to prepare for information that the CSI will request in order to efficiently process a crime scene. For example, checkboxes include the victim’s name, location and review of surveillance cameras, and evidence that could have been moved prior to arrival. This may be useful for the officer to review, when the scene is calm and safe, and when they are waiting on CSI arrival.

Also, while I do feel the application touched on this with the acknowledgment statements, I offer a word of caution: As a user, you would want to ensure that these guidelines do not contradict your policies and procedures. For example, it may not be recommended in some jurisdictions that EMS and Fire collect evidence, yet there are checkboxes for that. So, if you do adopt this application for training purposes and for future use on crime scenes, I would consider your own policies and procedures before accepting recommendations on how to proceed.

About the Author

Maria C. Pettolina, CSCSA, has over a decade of forensic experience and has worked as an investigator and a supervisor in crime scene and property and evidence. She is currently employed as a forensic consultant in Colorado and is a national speaker on emotional wellness for crime scene investigators. She is the owner of Future Focus Forensics, which offers expert training and consultancy services. Pettolina is a doctoral candidate and is published in the field of forensics. For the past seven years, she has been the lead instructor for a forensics program at a university in Colorado. She has over 1,200 hours of specialized forensic training and has been introduced as an expert in numerous criminal trials. She is a Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst through the International Association for Identification.

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