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Swanson, Criminal Investigation 8/e
Criminal Investigation, 8/e
Charles R. Swanson, University of Georgia
Neil C. Chamelin, Assistant State Attorney, Second Judicial Circuit
Leonard Territo, University of South Florida- Tampa

Investigators, the Investigative Process, and the Crime Scene

Chapter Overview

        Although crime is a national problem, its control is primarily the responsibility of local government. When officials fail to prevent or cannot deal effectively with crime, there are negative consequences. First, when individuals commit crime and escape prosecution, future illegal acts are encouraged. Second, an escalating crime rate requires that resources, which could be devoted to other social problems, be diverted to crime control, resulting in further entrenchment of such ills as poverty, substandard housing, and inadequate medical care. Third, as crime increases, our system of government faces the real possibility of a crisis of confidence in its ability to maintain public welfare. Finally, crime tears the fabric of social relations and living patterns. People become fearful of strangers and of being on the streets after dark, homes become fortresses, and families move to new locations in search of a secure life. A terrible reality is that until significant inroads are made in controlling crime, the overall quality of life is lower than it could be.

        While good investigative work will not significantly reduce crime by itself, the investigation of any crime places significant responsibilities upon the investigator. Successful investigators must possess essential qualities such as good communications skills, strong ethics, initiative, resourcefulness and compassion. Moreover, investigators have a responsibility to ensure that crimes are investigated effectively and thoroughly. In addition to conducting complete preliminary and follow-up investigations, understanding the importance of physical evidence in a criminal investigation is a key element of this responsibility. The contributions of physical evidence to an investigation are diminished primarily by the inability, unwillingness, or failure to locate, properly collect, mark, and preserve it and by the drawing of improper conclusions from its analysis.

        Investigators must also recognize that the search of the crime scene for physical evidence is not limited to the location at which the offense was committed; it involves a wider area, including the perpetrator's lines of approach and flight. Thus, a crime scene search must include the specific setting of the crime and its general environs. Situations may arise when even the most organized and well-planned crime scene investigation experiences obstacles. Investigators must be always be cautious and aware of potential problems at a crime scene and address these issues appropriately.