You’re probably seen it on television- a crime scene investigator in a white coat, bending over a lab table with only a desk lamp lighting the room, pulling fingerprints out of thin air. It makes for some great TV, as evidenced by a number of very popular television shows on the air right now. If only reality allowed us to do half the things CSIs can do on TV.
That’s not to say there aren’t some very interesting and hi-tech jobs being done by our real life CSIs. For example, Trent Rundquist, a Grand Junction Police Department employee since 2007, is now certified by the International Association for Identification (IAI) as a Crime Scene Investigator. He passed the written test and recently received his “official” letter and certificate.
This was a personal goal of his that he started working on last year. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) only requires Rundquist to be certified by the IAI as a Latent Print Examiner, which according to the IAI website there is a 63% pass rate for Latent Print Examiners and only 870 in the world that are certified. But Rundquist didn’t want to stop there, which is why he took on this extra challenge for a job that he says he absolutely loves.
“It’s fun. No day is the same and it’s challenging. I love challenges. I want to be the best I can be at what I do,” he says
There are three criminalists who work for the Grand Junction Police Department. Rundquist works as the Latent Print Examiner and the other two deal with chemistry, biology, and controlled substances.
Thanks to a partnership with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, our criminalists have state of the art equipment to help them in their work. This partnership began during the summer of 2008 when the GJPD criminalists moved in with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after that agency built a new facility in Grand Junction.
GJPD Laboratory Sergeant Dave Oswalt said, “We decided to team up with CBI because they were bringing a lab to Junction. The lab we had wasn’t the best.”
Our criminalists handle GJPD cases first and then they branch out to the other agencies. Because of the partnership, it’s not uncommon to find GJPD criminalists working alongside CBI investigators at their crime scenes.
“It is a good opportunity for our criminalists to gain some good experience and knowledge,” adds Sgt. Oswalt.
“The move helped the police department out money wise and helped CBI by giving them more man power,” Rundquist said. “We now have the opportunity to get with people who are in the same field as us, which is really nice.”
So, how do these guys jobs compare to what we all see on television? Rundquist said it’s common to be at a scene for at least 12 hours, not solving the entire case in one hour. He also wishes that the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) worked like it did on TV- where you put the fingerprint in the system and it brings up the person’s drivers license.
The AFIS does bring up a list of possible matches, and then Rundquist has to go through each person and pick out the correct match. His work is then checked out by another person. This process can be as short as couple of days or it can take a couple of weeks.
“No one rolls up to a scene in a humvee wearing stilettos. You also have to have a lot of knowledge in small things, like photography and math skills. We are always measuring blood spatter and bullet trajectories,” Rundquist said. “Never will I be at a scene for 10 minutes and find one piece of evidence that’s going to solve the case. It’s nothing like you see on CSI and all of those other shows.”
Rundquist adds he also gets a laugh at how dark the labs are on the TV shows. In this profession you need as much light as possible. But hey, we can’t all work in Hollywood.