The popularity of crime scene and investigative crime shows on television has come as a surprise to many who work in the field. The main surprise is the concept that crime scene analysts are the true crime solvers, when in truth, it takes dozens of people, doing many different jobs, to solve a crime. Often, the crime scene analyst’s contribution is a small one. One Minnesota forensic scientist says that the public “has gotten the wrong idea. Because I work in a lab similar to the ones on CSI, people seem to think I’m solving crimes left and right—just me and my microscope. They don’t believe me when I tell them that it’s just the investigators that are solving crimes, not me.”
Crime scene analysts do have an important role to play, however. Science has rapidly added a whole new dimension to gathering and assessing evidence. Modern crime labs can match a hair of a murder suspect to one found on a murder victim, for example, or recover a latent fingerprint from a threatening letter, or use a powerful microscope to match tool marks made during the wiring of an explosive device to a tool in a suspect’s possession.
Probably the most exciting of the forensic scientist’s tools is DNA analysis. DNA can be found in just one drop of blood, a dribble of saliva on a toothbrush, or even the residue from a fingerprint. Some DNA analysis techniques enable scientists to tell with certainty, for example, whether a drop of blood on a suspect’s shirt is that of a murder victim.