Wednesday, April 18, 2007

CSI: The Boring Parts

So I've been thinking about making this post for two days, but work and extra-curriculars have conspired, and I thought I'd let it go.

Now I've been evacuated from work due to a bomb threat that closed my building and six others for the day.  It's likely a copycat, as Bill pointed out, but really?  This gets to the heart of the point I want to make about police work: a copycat is as capable of killing people as the person being copied, and investigating threats takes time.

After the attacks at Virginia Tech, I heard Katie Couric ask (and I paraphrase slightly), "With the gunman dead, who do we hold responsible?"  I see no reason why responsibility should pass on due to death.  Excoriating local police and university officials (who are also suffering and mourning) will not bring back any of the dead, nor will it prevent future attacks.  A person sufficiently determined to kill will kill.  With no rational motive, we will not prevent them doing so.  Policing is, by definition, a reactive response to a crime already committed, and while some behavioral work has been done to attempt to predict the moved of some kinds of serial and spree killers, two hours remains too short of a time period in which to identify motive, means, suspect, and potential for further attack.

I get very frustrated with people who want to blame police response for the carnage at the second crime scene.  Police had no reason to suspect that there would BE a second scene.  They had no reason to close the entire campus for an incident that occurred in one building.  Why?  There are quite a few good reasons.

1.  Most murders occur between people who know one another.  Even if bystanders are hit, there is usually a previous connection that leads to the assailant, and this is usually gleaned through police investigation: interviews, physical evidence, etc.

2.  When a woman is murdered, it's very likely by a current or previous romantic partner.  When we first heard about the first scene, it was reported as a possible murder-suicide.  With the actual assailant slipped off quietly back to his dorm, this would, at first glance, be the most obvious avenue of speculation, and would also not suggest reason to seal the campus or evacuate.  Which leads me to...

3.  Crime scenes do not provide much in the way of quick information.  From the moment the first officer arrived on-scene, there were two evidence-related goals: preserve evidence, and preserve chain of custody.  The first was most likely a crowd-control issue, given that the scene was indoors and the largest threat to evidence was too much traffic and witnesses who wandered off.  The second is a matter of controlling access to physical evidence for legal reasons: had there ended up being anyone charged for the murders, every movement of every piece of physical evidence must be documented.


You know how everyone on CSI does their own thing, picks up the first interesting thing they see, bags it and runs off to hunt it down?  Not so much.  My first-hand experience with evidence collection is in emergency rooms, so I'll draw from there instead of regurgitating my textbooks to you.  When a woman who has been raped goes to the ER, both medical and police procedures are put immediately in place.  You've likely heard of a Rape Kit, which is an evidence-collection set kept in ERs so that evidence can be collected as soon as possible when a victim reports without denying her medical attention.  It contains supplies for examining and taking samples from likely places that evidence can be left, instructions for photographing visible bruising or other damage, and forms documenting the collection and storage procedures for each sample.  It's a huge help not to have to stop at the police station, or wait for evidence collection materials to be trucked over, but it presents a huge pain in the ass for some poor nurse, who can literally not let this box of evidence out of his or her sight for the duration of the evidence collection.  This can take hours, and can go over shift-change.  At the end of it, the evidence is signed over to a police officer, who then delivers it to the appropriate processing or storage personnel, who also must sign for it.

Imagine doing this for an entire crime scene, two dead victims, a number of wounded people, and anyone who witnessed the incident.

So, while the cops were collecting evidence and information regarding the only existing scene scene, college officials were crafting an email designed to prevent panic (in itself a potentially deadly threat), and the shooter was quietly slipping back to his dorm to prepare to alter lives once again.  The only one of these three parties who had credible reason to suspect further mayhem was the person planning to create it. 


Blogger Bill said...

Thank you for putting up what I've been wanting to say for a while. The public's reaction to this event has been nothing short of frustrating to me from the beginning.

Unfortunately, we're in a society that believes that blame has to be put somewhere, as there are ten news networks with 24-hour coverage of the event. They feel they have to ask the "tough questions," even though a lot of those "tough questions" are just, you know, stupid, ignorant questions. What's even worse, they're the kinds of questions that people don't want to hear the answers to.

The CSI mentality is incredibly prevalent in this attack, too. People expected to have these two attacks linked within ten minutes of it happening, and when it didn't they thought there was something wrong. Like a lot of people have said, Va Tech is HUGE, the size of White Bear Lake. It's the size of a small town, and if a town had to be shut down every time a murder occurred, the mayor would be ridden out on a rail. Tech officials did what they were supposed to do, despite the fact that people don't want to believe it.

As for the "copycat" comment I made earlier, I certainly realize that even copycats can do damage. So do the people in charge. Unfortunately, 999 out of 1000 times, the U evacuation being the latest, it appears that it was just done as a prank or as a way to get out of classes. It's sick, but there's no way around it, especially in this day and age.

Thanks. I rambled. ;)

4:54 PM  

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