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Welch: CPA week 5: Criminal investigations and gangs
0212Darryl Crime Column

Another week of the Porterdale Police Department (PPD) Citizens Police Academy (CPA) is in the books. This class is going by much too fast. For the first time since we started, we have less in front of us than we have behind us.

This week’s class gave the group information about two more important aspects of law enforcement, criminal investigations and dealing with street gangs.

We all love our crime shows, whether it’s “NCIS,” “CSI-Wherever” or “Law and Order Whatever.” And we marvel as our favorite investigators are able to solve even the most complicated crimes- with multiple suspects and very few clues- in an hour, not counting commercials.

Well, those of us enamored with crime shows got a dose of reality at this week’s CPA. Seems that solving crimes isn’t nearly that easy. Holy whodunit, Batman!

PPD Cpl. Charles Cook took us through some of the real steps of crime solving. We learned that a criminal investigation is a time consuming and tedious procedure. We learned that the first step involves the first officer at the scene securing it and preserving evidence. The last step, hopefully, ends with a prosecution.

Cpl. Cook explained some of the steps and that not all crimes are solved using the same steps. We learned that it’s necessary for investigators to document things exactly as they are found. Photographs are taken. Videos are made. Cpl. Cook told us that investigators often go back and look at the video to pick up on things that they might have missed. The human eye can sometimes be imperfect. The camera never blinks. Corporal Cook also explained that good fingerprints are not always easy to come by and that even if an investigator is able to secure good prints, unless the perpetrator is in the system, fingerprints aren’t useful.

And speaking of fingerprints, we learned is that the old McGyver trick of obtaining fingerprints using super glue actually works. It’s called cyanoacrylate fuming. It seems that the moisture of the fingerprint reacts with the superglue in such a way that the fingerprint is visible on a solid surface. It’s probably more technical than that, but you get the idea.

We also heard about something related to television that prosecutors and cops are being faced with in courts today. I’d heard the theory, but had never really given it much thought until now.  It’s called the “CSI effect.” It seems that jurors may sometimes have trouble understanding that all crimes aren’t solved using evidence obtained from Abby’s mass-spectrometer on NCIS or some other technology. Another theory is that jurors might lose interest in an evidence chain that takes longer than an hour, minus the commercials. Real or not, like everything we’ve learned, it gave us something to think about.

Finally, we learned that sometimes the most useful piece of evidence is a good witness and what it takes to be one. It’s important that people who witness crimes are willing to cooperate with law enforcement to catch and prosecute offenders. Crimes are solved by good people working hard to put bad people in jail.  It’s important to help them help us.

We also heard about street gangs. We were told about the different types of gangs and that they are comprised of people from every race, gender and nationality, and that gang members do not always conform to a specific stereotype. We learned about graffiti and the ways that members of gangs communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. We also heard about crimes committed by gangs and that many police departments have established task forces who specifically deal with them. Many states have also enacted laws specifically designed to deal with gangs.

As always, this was a great session of the CPA. Every week we learn something new about the things that cops deal with on a daily basis. And just like last week, some of the things we learned were good, some were bad, and some were really ugly. I guess that’s the job…

Next week, we’re going to a firing range. Stay tuned.

Darryl Welch is a community reporter for The Covington News. He can be contacted at either or 770-728-1438.