Drawing chalk around the deceased, instant finger print and licence plate results and dealing with dead bodies every day.
These are ‘far fetched’ myths the public have been led to believe – thanks to the portrayal in films and TV dramas like CSI, says the boss of Forensic Services at West Midlands Police.
As episode one of the documentary aired on Tuesday, West Midlands Police faced a number of questions from crime thriller fans in a Q&A – including ‘who draws around the body?’
But there’s one question in particular the Assistant Director, who joined the forensic team after leaving school at 16, is often asked when she reveals her profession.
“‘Do you have to deal with dead bodies?’ That’s the type of thing they say,” the mum-of-two tells BirminghamLive.
“It would be our responsibility to make sure that body is preserved and protected and moved to a mortuary on the coroner’s guidance.
“But thankfully, that’s not an every day occurence.”
The forensic team, managed by Michelle, deal with everything in the region – from murders and fatal collisions to rape and sexual exploitation.
Perhaps surprisingly, a ‘big chunk’ of the work for the digital forensic team actually concerns child abuse imagery that’s shared online.
But, she says, the team are mainly called to the scene of acquisitive crimes, such as burglaries, robberies and carjackings.
Michelle also debunks a number of common misconceptions about the job, including the speed and ease at which people think DNA and finger print results come through.
“It’s not just press a button and there you go your result’s popped up,” she adds.
“There was quite a few questions asked of us as to; ‘it’s not like this on the Tele’ and that’s probably the main difference to the tele.
“A lot of people would say it’s that instant results, that you put something, whether DNA or finger prints, into the system – and out pops the face the person, where they live, what times they’re going to be in.”
She continues: “Some of the enhancements you see on the tele where they zoom onto a registration plate and out pops a perfectly clear picture.
“So there’s quite a lot of myths. Some of them we probably didn’t know the public thought, especially as to how quick and easy it is. There’s some far fetched stuff.”
Every scene is meticulously analysed by the team, who use both standard operating procedures and ‘professional judgement’ to ensure they collect all the evidence.
“It’s not go in, and have a quick look, it’s literally centimetre by centimetre just checking that there’s nothing there that you’ve missed, it is meticulous.
“We had a question yesterday on – ‘who’s job is it to draw around the body?’ That doesn’t happen either in reality,” she laughs.
“In a major crime scene, we use a laser scanner so we take a scan of that scene before anything is moved from it.
“Then we’ve been able to capture exactly where everything was and the measurements before we take anything out.”
The laser scanner is similar to CAD drawings used by architects and road surveyors, she explains.
Once they have this scan, the team can add evidence digitally and later use the reconstruction to show the judge and the jury in court.
The extent of a person’s injuries can be shown to court through a manikin, to preserve the victim’s dignity, she adds.
“One of the challenges we have is showing the extent of injuries in court,” she explains.
“We use the same team who do that reconstruction. They take the photos of the injuries and superimpose them on a manikin – I know they did it with the Baby P case.
“You can show the extent of the injuries without losing the dignity or respect of showing the victim’s injuries in a courtroom.”
They’ve also used a 3D printing to show, for example, a fracture in a skull – which the jury can see and physically hold – to understand the extent of the injury.
Michelle touches on the incredibly complex work of the serious collision team, who can determine whether a driver was braking, had a tyre puncture and even whether they had their lights on ahead of a fatality.
She says: “Our serious collision investigators respond to fatal collisions. It’s such a tragic role, because there’s always someone who has sadly lost their life in that collision.
“But some of the work that they do and techniques they deploy to understand how that accident occured. When they’re trying to calculate speeds that vehicles were travelling at, whether there were tyre deficiencies, whether people were braking, whether people had their lights on.
“The techniques are really quite complex.”
Michelle hopes the Real CSI documentary, following her team through nine investigations, will help to highlight the critical role of forensics.
“I’m hoping the programme portrays just that respect that we have for our victims and that passion and drive that people have to bring justice for them.
“I think that interaction with the homicide investigators and how close that relationship needs to be is really important as well.”
Episode two of Forensics: The Real CSI will air on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Two.
-- to www.birminghammail.co.uk