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Real CSI is not like what you see on TV

Week 4 of Princeton’s Citizens Police Academy

Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator Brad Gapinski demonstrates how a footprint casting is made using dental stone during Wednesday's Citizens Police Academy class.
Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator Brad Gapinski demonstrates how a footprint casting is made using dental stone during Wednesday's Citizens Police Academy class.

After Week 4, I now know that crime scene investigating is nowhere near as glamorous as what we see on “CSI” on television.

Sure, there’s fingerprint dusting, blood spatter interpretations (depending on what kind of crime it is), and the epic search for that one hair follicle or shoe imprint.

But there’s no immediate break in the cases following an investigation, there’s no quick jump into the car and catch the suspect who just happens to still be in the area, and there’s definitely no quick turnaround on analysis of the evidence.

In fact, one of the first points Illinois State Police Crime Scene Investigator Brad Gapinski made in his presentation Wednesday night at Princeton’s Citizens Police Academy was that his line of work is not like the TV show, “CSI.”

When Gapinski is called out to a scene, all he’s there to do is determine what happened and how it happened. Unlike what we watch on “CSI,” he doesn’t determine suspects, he doesn’t chase people down with warrants, and he doesn’t make arrests.

The first thing he does after getting to the scene of a crime is pull out his camera. Pictures are taken of nearly every square inch of the crime scene, whether it’s blood spatter, fingerprints, shoe prints, bullet holes, dead bodies — all that documentation is useful for reconstruction purposes when the case goes to court.

A lot of measuring of the evidence is done at the scene as well. Measurements play a big role when reviewing and analyzing the evidence.

When physical evidence is collected, it’s placed in a paper bag (paper is preferred over plastic, because it allows biological evidence to breathe). The bags are labeled and then sent off to a lab to be analyzed.

Unfortunately, there are only eight crime labs in the state of Illinois. To say there are backlog issues is an understatement.

Princeton Police Investigator Chris Erickson, who also led Wednesday’s class, said he just received evidence analysis he sent off 20 months ago for a local case.

What’s worse about this situation? Chicago doesn’t have its own lab like Los Angeles or New York City, so all the evidence collected from cases throughout Chicago is sent to one lab in Joliet, which is where some of our area’s evidence goes.

So if you can imagine all the evidence being collected from every crime scene in the Chicago area and being funneled to one lab ... yea, I feel bad for those people who work there.

This issue stems from funding issues (of course, it’s Illinois) and the lack of people who do evidence analysis.

Following Gapinski’s presentation, the class got to see how a casting of a footprint is made using dental stone. It was interesting to hear just how much analysis can be done on one footprint — even if it’s not a perfect. Erickson said people would be surprised to know how many convictions have been made based on shoe evidence.

Next, we dusted our own fingerprints using the fine powder and brush, much like what we DO see on “CSI.” Gapinski shared that while we were experimenting with perfect prints in the class, perfect prints are hardly ever found at a scene. But a print doesn’t have to be perfect to work in favor of an investigation. All that’s needed is five lines from a print to determine who it belongs to.

An interesting fact Erickson shared was that convicted felons must now submit fingerprints and DNA as part of their sentencing. These are recorded and used to easily catch repeat offenders.

I think Wednesday’s class was my favorite so far, and it seems the courses will only continue to get more engaging from here on out. Next week, we will be learning about drunken driving and current drug trends. We’ve been told to dress comfy and prepare to ride around on a golf cart wearing the drunk goggles. That’s going to be picture-worthy. I might need to pop a Dramamine or two before I go.

Note to readers: Goldie Rapp is a senior staff writer for the Bureau County Republican. She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @bcr_grapp.

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