Whether a New Mexico Certified Peace Officer attended the state’s DPS or NMSP academies, or the Albuquerque Police Department's Academy, the instruction officers receive in handling and investigating a crime scene is fairly consistent across the board.
Under the Department of Public Safety Basic Peace Officer academy curriculum, Block 6 addresses “Principles of Criminal Investigation” and academies are required to devote at least 76 hours of instruction to cadets on the subject. Of this 76 hour block, 22 hours is devoted to the duties officers have as first responders to scenes and identifying, collecting, preserving, and processing evidence. Remember, these are duties...not options. They are expected and required. This is one of the reasons why officers are given higher credibility in court than citizens...they have sworn themselves to duties for citizens.
Several months ago and thanks to one of our Eyes, we were provided APD’s training material for crime scene investigation. This is the material we were told (and many of us remember) was used in the training of cadets and is consistent with APD’s internal Standard Operating Procedures. We’ve attached a couple of slides from the extensive PowerPoint which we have in its entirety (among other materials). While we are not going to summarize the lessons involved, we are going to highlight some of the basic PRELIMINARY rules of crime scene management.
We do this not to show how senior APD and city personnel violated Ms. Han’s crime scene, but to show that their actions were intentional. It simply is not possible for people who are entrusted in running the state’s largest city and police department to commit these actions and incactions by accident. They didn't forget about these procedures or their duty to follow them, they intentionally violated them.
The principals involved are very easy to follow, not complicated, and are consistent with common sense. But there are many of them, and it takes effort to violate virtually all of them in the ways that these perpetrators did on November 18, 2010 which because of their actions have led us to where we are today.
As new officers are instructed, “Objectives of Investigation” begins with Rule #1: Determine if a crime has been committed. This involves: a visual inspection, interview with victim and/or witnesses, and determine what crime has been committed. In the case of an unattended death, the presumption and best practice model is ALL unattended deaths are suspicious deaths and are treated as crime scenes.
Rule #2, Identify the Offender, requires officers to: search for their identity from interviews with victim and/or witnesses, or via evidence at the scene, and identify a motive.
Rule #3, Apprehension of the Offender, involves efforts to locate and take the offender in custody.
Rule #4, Gathering and Preserving Evidence, involves SECURING THE SCENE, request additional assistance, assess and search for evidence, and document the scene (photograph, sketch, etc.)
Officers are instructed that upon arrival, their duty is to PROTECT THE CRIME SCENE. There are two simple but very important reasons why crime scenes must be protected: 1) To prevent the destruction or removal of physical evidence and 2) To allow for accurate documentation of the scene and reconstruction of events at the scene. Additionally, officers are required to remove unauthorized persons, determine the scene’s boundaries, identify evidence and make a safe path through the scene that will not disturb evidence, establish perimeters, and do no alter the scene.
This is basic academy training. And from there, cadets are instructed about this material for hours. And then they apply their learning in scenarios. Then the training is reinforced when they are paired up with training officers out on patrol. And finally they get to appreciate why this is all necessary in court because if there are deviations to this, evidence will get excluded and offenders get released….or not pursued.