When a crime has occurred, one of the most important things that an investigator can do is to make a crime scene report.
Crime scene reports contain important and relevant data pertaining to the crime scene, as well as to what the investigator experienced while there.
These reports are often instrumental in solving a crime, and in court, they can be the difference between a criminal being found guilty or not.
When an investigator arrives at a crime scene, their goal is to collect information. This information may be in the form of physical or trace evidence, witness statements, as well as what the investigator actually experienced while at the scene. Everything from sights to smells can be important information, so the investigator must take very detailed notes in order to not miss a key piece of evidence.
Who Takes the Report?
Crime scene reports are typically taken by an official that is investigating a crime scene. This person may be a detective, a police officer, military personnel or any other authority that is tasked with investigating crimes. Often times, if there are multiple investigators, each will take their own separate crime scene report for their own investigative purposes. This is done so that each agency has a record of what took place, and having multiple reports can be very helpful in court, as the more records that are available, the better.
Before beginning an actual crime scene report, an investigator will need to fill out any identifying information, such as their name, badge number, department, location, time of day, and the date. This information is used to set the frame for the report. Essentially, it tells who is taking the report, where they are taking it, and what the setting is. This information may even be useful in court to place a suspect at or near the crime scene when the crime occurred.
Use your Senses
Additionally, an investigator will include what they experienced with their five senses at the scene. This includes any evidence they see, such as furniture that has been knocked over, as well as any evidence they smell, such as gasoline when at the scene of a fire. The goal is to try to describe the scene as accurately as possible, so that anyone that reads the report will feel as though they are actually at the scene themselves. This will help later in court to give members of the jury an understanding of what the investigator experienced. To help preserve the scene further, an investigator may take pictures or sketches of the scene. Some departments will also use video cameras and audio recorders to document the state of the crime scene.
From there, an investigator may speak with any witnesses to find out what they experienced. Witnesses may include people that were at the scene and who saw the crime take place, as well as people that were near the scene and could have possibly heard something pertaining to the crime. Witness statements are extremely important in writing a crime scene report, as they often are able to offer evidence that an investigator is unable to experience on their own. Any witness statement will be accompanied with the witness’ personal information, including their name and their contact information. Witnesses may be given the chance to write down a statement themselves, or an investigator may write it for them. Some police departments also use voice recorders to take witness statements.
Any evidence that is taken for further examination should be documented in a crime scene report, and this evidence will usually be tagged, or identified, with specific information that denotes what police department is investigating, as well as the time and date of the investigation. Any identifying marks will be noted in the report so that the evidence can be easily recalled later, and detailed descriptions will be noted to ensure accuracy. An investigator may also note where the evidence is being taken to be stored, as well as who has possession of the evidence. This can be beneficial in court to ensure that no evidence has been tampered with. Most evidence is also photographed, and often, an object of measure will be placed next to the piece of evidence to give a sense of scale for others that view the pictures in the future.
Filing the Report
Once the investigator finishes writing their report, they will need to file it with their department, which is often done electronically. An investigator may take initial, hand-written notes at the scene, and then complete a full report on a computer back at their office. Once a report is filed, a commanding officer may read over it to get a better sense of the crime being investigated, and the report will usually be shared with other people and agencies that are involved in the investigation. Members of the media may or may not have access to a police report if the case is pending investigation. This is done to ensure that any suspects are treated fairly, and also to keep sensitive information away from potential suspects.
Reports in Court
In court, a crime scene report may be used by the prosecution or the defense to document the events of the case. If the investigator is called to testify, they may refer back to the report in order to discuss facts of the case, especially if the case is old and the investigation took place in the distant past. Witnesses that are documented in the crime scene report may also be called to testify in court regarding what they experienced at the scene.
Crime scene reports are typically kept on file for a period of time before being discarded; however, as computers now offer incredibly vast amounts of storage space compared to the filing cabinets of days’ past, more and more police departments are opting to keep reports on file indefinitely. Once a case has been solved, police reports are typically open to be read by anyone, including the media, through the Freedom of Information Act. This does not, however, apply to sensitive military crime scene reports that contain classified information.