4 C.S.I. Myths
By Mordecai H. Hunter
Law-enforcement is an alluring profession. If television is to be believed, the perfect crime is an impossibility- DNA is everywhere, and the even the flimsiest evidence will convict the guilty. The hot detective in the heels will always fall for the lantern-jawed anti-hero and all caught criminals are wellsprings of information on their uncaught brethren. The best man for the job is the guy who plays by his own rules, and bucks the chain of command. The reality is much less… romantic. For instance, there’s a LOT of paperwork.
4. There’s A LOT of Paperwork
That’s so important, it was worth repeating. Ever see those scenes where an officer shows up at a suspect’s house, knocks on the door only to be greeted by an unwilling suspect or suspect’s girlfriend, and then told to come back when they have a warrant? Then you know how those scenes become instantly awesome when the officer responds by waving the warrant in their face? Yeah, that took paperwork. That paperwork had to convince a judge or magistrate that there was "probable cause" to think that criminal activity is occurring at the place, or that evidence of a crime may be found there. In fact, up to half of their work is paperwork. A lot of the administrative aspects of law enforcement go conspicuously missing in television, and there’s little wonder why. No one wants to sit there and watch Det. Grissom twiddle his thumbs waiting on that warrant to be approved or denied. Nor does anyone really want to see the oversight of his superiors as he gives them the reports they ask for at the close of every case. However, for real world law-enforcement officials, these reports are their bread and butter so to speak.
3. The Case Loads Are a Handful
On TV, the police are able to work on one or 2 cases at a time, with all crimes occurring in the interim simply relating to the original ones. This leaves them free to throw all of their effort and resources into those one or two cases. Real life officers often work several cases at a time and need to divide their attention to all of them equally. Multitasking is an essential skill for aspiring officers. Speaking of multitasking…
2. One Person Forensic Teams
In many areas, the job of the forensic team you’re familiar with on TV can fall on one person. In these cases, an aptitude for multitasking is even more important to avoid cross-contamination which can be disastrous. In other places, there may be a few people doing the same jobs rather than having it delegated to specific people.
Then there’s the misconception that forensic teams only work on murders. On TV, we see them studying evidence from bizarre murders, getting instant results. The reality is that forensic teams work on crime less than on TV, like a LOT less. Most deaths are accidental or from natural causes, and a relatively small percentage of deaths are from homicides. In Multnomah County, Oregon which includes Portland, for example, 0.48% of all deaths in 2012 were homicides. That’s with a zero and a point. While medical examiners don’t investigate every death, homicides are still few and far between.
1. The Majority of Crimes Go Unsolved
According to this infographic, only about 40% of crimes are ever solved, and homicide clearance rates have dropped since the mid-1960s. In crime dramas on TV about 97% of cases result in the police solving the crime.
It’s easy to see why people misunderstand the way police operate and the rules that govern them. These things don’t really make for good television. It’s important though, that those looking to enter into careers in criminal justice and people who may interact with them to know the truth behind these myths. Understanding the way things truly work will help those in law enforcement cooperate with the communities in their charge.