Day 1 of Crime Scene Investigation for Writers: 5 Major Activities

CrimeSceneTapeI started writing mysteries and thrillers way back when. Writing the detective procedural is one of my favorites because they involve so much detailed information.

I’m sure a bunch of you crime and mystery writers know a lot more about this subject than I do. But to help others I’ve listed some of the information below for those writers who may not know the 5 elements to “attack” a crime scene–for real and in your novels. The first step below shows detailed info about the process of the first step when arriving at a crime scene. I’ve only summarized each other activity but, in the coming days, I will further flesh out (ew) the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th activities with actual step-by-step processes for crime scene investigators.

So, here we go. First you must know that there are several levels of Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) and I’m sure that with every city, county, parish, and state they have their own way of setting up these designations differently. I’ve researched most of my information about different employment levels of CSI from the Phoenix Police Department’s Crime Scene Response Site because my next novel is set in Phoenix. For Phoenix, there are 5 levels of CSI and they are designated as “specialist” levels 1, 2, and 3 with an additional two supervisory roles called Shift and Scene Supervisors.

The First Step involves the initial response when CSI arrive at crime scene
Paperwork – There will always be paperwork. When we write about governmental entities such as the police department and crime scene units (CSU) someone will be asked to fill out some paperwork for the receipt of information and for legal entry into the premises.
Safety Protocol – Everyone at the scene will be expected to follow safety procedures set out by their departments.
Emergency Care – Emergency services for living victims will be given.
Secure and Control Persons at the Scene – There should be investigators at the scene who will act to keep the scene as close to as it was when the crime was first committed. These people are responsible for boundary control. They will tape off the areas deemed pertinent areas of the crime scene and will protect the boundaries they’ve set up. Which leads to the fifth protocol.
Identify & Establish Boundaries, Protect and Secure – Need I say more?
Turn Over Control of the Scene and Brief Investigator(s) in Charge – Detectives or other levels of police will arrive at (or enter) the scene after the initial responders “lock down” the crime scene. Once they go through, they will then turn the scene over to the investigators of the scene, such as detectives in charge or other branches of the police department (note: typically murder scenes are given the highest levels of attention where a breaking & entering scene might get less attention and even lower CSU investigators arriving at the scene)
Document Actions and Observations – Someone in the CSU will be charting what is being seen by the knowledgeable CSI. Usually, lower level CSI who are working up to higher grades of pay will take these notes.
Set-up a Command Post and Take Notes Throughout – This step could well be done upon arriving at the scene and is used in circumstances where a major crime has been committed. Think a bomb going off, here or a plane crashing (the National Transportation Safety Board would handle a plane crash). A truck careening into the side of a bank would initiate authorities to set up of a command post.
Manage Any Witnesses at the Scene – Of course, people who actually witness the scene are only required to remain at the scene as their consciences will allow. There are those people who will not become involved. But more often than not, witnesses will step up and help police with their investigation. When they do, they need to be controlled. For one, they should be separated from the scene and other witnesses–in order to avoid homogenizing their statements. Then, they should be questioned and paperwork should be drawn up for each witness statement.

The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Steps are outlined below and will be covered in the coming days. These 4 additional steps are:

  1. Preliminary Documentation and Evaluation of the Scene
  2. Processing the Scene
  3. Completing and Recording the Crime Scene Investigation, and
  4. Crime Scene Equipment

As well, I will be listing several equipment items used by the CSU. For now, I’ve listed 10 interesting items that a proper CSU will use on a day-to-day basis. In fact, there are hundreds of items. But, I will list the equipment in shorter, more digestable amounts.

Initial Responding Officer(s) should bring with them items such as:

  • CrimeSceneEquipmentConsent/search forms,
  • Crime scene barricade tape,
  • First-aid kit,
  • Flares,
  • Flashlight and extra batteries,
  • Paper bags,
  • Personal protective equipment (these are items are considered items of high importance and should be kept in police vehicles or readily available for the initial responding CSI),
  • Audiotape recorder, and
  • Camera with flash and extra film, if not digital camera

I love writing procedural mysteries, if not for the research alone.

I write books and you can find them all here on my website or on Amazon and B&N or simply click on the image below to zoom over to Amazon.


Other sites with great crime scene and forensic information can be found at the following links: