Allen Pinkerton was one of the main contributors to the private investigations field. In 1849 he was deemed the first detective in Chicago, and he went on to investigate criminal activity for the federal government (Orthmann & Hess, 2013). Pinkerton even helped to develop the central database of information the FBI uses today. Criminal investigations, in this age, has been mystified by media and entertainment sources. Most television shows, movies, and magazines portray super-human detectives fighting crimes and solving mysteries beyond the realm of reality. From watching these venues, criminal investigations often seem open and shut; a criminal is apprehended, proven guilty and issued a long prison sentence within a matter of days. However, television and movie portrayals of criminal investigations rarely reveal an accurate account of law enforcement investigations.
CSI is a popular television show. The show depicts super-human detectives using every type of forensic tool imaginable in order to garner evidence of a violent crime. The show often fails to paint a picture of the entire investigative process. The show CSI often show investigators arriving on the scene and immediately begin to investigate. In reality, the investigative process always begins with an initial report. A person calls a local dispatcher to report a crime. The local police department is then dispatched. At this point, local police personnel secure the scene including: redirecting traffic, containing witnesses and the public, rendering aid to the victims, and possibly interviewing witnesses and the victim. The local police department perform the “legwork” portion for specialized investigators. The television show CSI fails to accurately depict how a crime scene is secured.
CSI also fails to accurately depict case preparation and the prosecution and charging of a crime. In the popular television show, investigators do whatever is necessary in order to obtain evidence of a crime. CSI often shows investigators breaking constitutional and state laws in order to catch criminals. In reality, investigators must properly review evidence and formally document it for prosecutors. Moreover, police officials must obtain the proper permission to search homes, obtain DNA, and arrest suspects. On television, this process is shortened and the investigators arrest the suspects without any legal ramifications. Television shows also present the arrest as a formal charge; however, in reality, the police gather evidence for a prosecutor to consider charging a suspect. Television shows also fail to give an accurate account of court room testimony and case preparation.
Although criminal investigations have begun to use technology to solve crimes, television shows, such as CSI, lead the public to believe every case has solid evidence. Even though real life criminalistics often takes qualified, well-skilled, knowledgeable, and persistent investigators, in some cases evidence is not apparent. Forensics is a great tool to use in catching criminals and solving cases; however, in some cases, basic investigation skills are a more accurate depiction of real-life investigations. The fancy depictions of forensic investigations are extremely entertaining; however, television shows paint these investigations in a false light. Today’s jurors may even be misled by these false depictions and expect to see fancy forensic evidence in the courtroom. Today’s investigators mostly rely on experience, knowledge, and training in order to solve crimes.
Orthmann, C., & Hess, K. (2013). Criminal Investigation (10th ed.). Clifton Park, New York: Delmar Cengage Learning.