The Mentor Police Department continues to utilize a highly successful evidence technician program. Prior to the inception of this program, processing of crime scenes for physical evidence was done exclusively by detectives. If a crime was reported when there were no detectives on duty, one had to be called in to handle the situation. Decisions had to be made as to whether a particular scene could wait until a detective was on duty or to pay overtime for one to be ordered to the scene.
The evidence technician program was started to address the inefficiencies of the above system. The proper training of uniformed officers of the patrol division in the techniques associated with the collection and preservation of physical evidence, provides better service to victims of crimes, and enhances the effectiveness of the patrol response and investigation of crime scenes. The CSI effect, caused by network television, has elevated citizen expectations of the value of forensic evidence to a successful criminal investigation. In many cases, these expectations are well founded, as evidence collected and presented by evidence technicians has had a direct bearing on the conviction of perpetrators of crimes.
The patrol division currently has twenty trained evidence technicians (ETs). These officers have volunteered for their role, and their duties are in addition to their normal duties as a patrol officer. When assigned to these duties for a shift, the evidence technician carries a crime scene camera and a basic crime scene kit in addition to his everyday equipment. Additional specialized equipment is available if needed. The ET is assigned to a patrol zone and handles normal calls for service, until such time as the need for crime scene processing occurs.
Among the common tasks of an evidence technician, is the documenting of a scene via photography. All have been trained in digital photography, and are called upon to document injuries to victims, physical crime scenes, and serious motor vehicle crashes. They also process scenes for latent fingerprints, footprints, hairs, fibers, bodily fluids which may contain DNA, tool marks, tire prints, and any other evidence which may place a person at a crimes scene. Once evidence is documented and collected, the evidence technician must properly package it, and submit it along with the needed paperwork to the Lake County Regional Forensic Laboratory for needed analysis.
All of the above requires the training which allows them to effectively perform these duties. Detective Edward Zigman have been certified by the State of Ohio Attorney General as Master Crime Scene Investigators and Master Evidence Technician. Assisting Detective Zigman will be Detectives Brian Haller and Daniel Radigan. They have developed and refined a 40 hour basic course that all evidence technicians attend once selected for these duties. The Lake County Crime Lab has lent their personnel to instruct on their various areas of expertise, insuring that the latest methodology and procedures of the lab are being met. This course is highly respected throughout the county, and when teaching the course, it has been opened up to other departments. Officers from Willoughby, Madison Township, Kirtland Hills, Lakeland Community College, and Mentor on the Lake have attended this training. All personnel assigned to the Mentor Detective Bureau also have received this training.
The evidence technicians receive periodic update training. Cases handled at their level are critiqued, and areas of concern, or new techniques, equipment, etc. are discussed. If possible, several evidence technicians are sent to the yearly seminar hosted by the Ohio Investigator’s Organization. The training obtained during this seminar is then brought back and passed on to their peers.
The position of evidence technician sometimes appears to be a thankless job. The duties undertaken by these officers often require them to work in dirty environments under the most adverse of weather conditions. Upon completion of an assignment, they find that their normal duties are still waiting for them to handle. However, all of this is tempered by the satisfaction attained when their work leads to the identification and successful prosecution of an offender. The Mentor Police Department and the citizens of Mentor are all better served by the efforts of these dedicated officers.