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Real CSI: What the TV Crime Shows Get Wrong

Cop shows have been around since the earliest days of TV. Crime dramas and murder mysteries remain popular today, especially on CBS where 14 of the network’s 22 prime time hours are devoted to “police procedurals” ranging from the multi-part “CSI” franchise to the new updated Sherlock Holmes drama “Elementary.”

If you watch any (or all) or these shows, you probably think you have a pretty good idea of how police investigate crimes. And you’d probably be wrong. Dead wrong.

Here are just some of the clichés TV cop show viewers take for granted that have no basis on real crime scene investigations:

Lots of forensic evidence

Lots of Forensic Evidence

Because of shows like “CSI,” juries have come to expect prosecutors to trot out reams of forensic evidence – hair, skin, fibers, DNA – that combined, point clearly to a perpetrator. In fact, many crime scenes lack any forensic evidence at all. In situations where such evidence is found, much of it has often deteriorated or been contaminated beyond usefulness.

Fingerprints on the Murder Weapons

Bloody Knife as Evidence

Readable fingerprints are difficult to find on just about any surface, but they’re really hard to get off guns, knives and, yes, even candlesticks in the library. Textured handles, humidity and the simple movement of skin over a surface will usually blur fingerprints beyond recognition.

 Instant DNA Analysis

DNA Analysis

On TV, cops can get a DNA analysis virtually overnight. In real life, it usually takes weeks for a police lab to submit a DNA report.

 Access to the Latest Technology

CSI Crime Lab

TV crime show labs are always equipped with the latest HD-computerized, laser-driven, evidence-analyzing doo-dads. In fact, most police labs are eternally cash-strapped, and their equipment is usually years out of date.

The God-Like Database

Criminal Database

On TV, forensic clues (fingerprints, hair samples, DNA, etc.) can always be cross-referenced to a specific person within seconds using an official database. In fact, unless you already have a criminal record, you’re probably not in a criminal database, and any other place where your personal information may exist is likely not linked to any law enforcement computer network.

Dental Records

Dental Records

How many TV corpses have been identified using dental records? Dental records are a good way to identify a burnt, mangled or otherwise un-intact body – but first you have to have a pretty good idea who the victim was and who his/her dentist was to get the dental records in the first place. It doesn’t work the other way around.

The Jack-of-All-Trades Lab Geek

Lab Geek

TV lab techs are inevitably experts on everything from ballistics to chemical analysis to DNA matching. In actual big city police departments, there are entire teams devoted to each individual specialty. Certainly more than your average network TV series could afford.

Get Your Associate Degree in Criminal Investigations at Everest University Online

If you’d like your pursue real CSI work as a career, your first step could be an associate degree online in Criminal Investigations through Everest University Online. A division of Everest University, Everest University Online offers a two-year associate degree program in Criminal Investigations that you can take from home during the evening, on weekends, or whenever your schedule allows.

Subjects covered in the Criminal Investigations program include:

  • Criminalistics
  • Graphics and Documentation
  • Fingerprints Classification and Latents
  • Biological Evidence
  • Crime Scene Dynamics
  • Technology Crimes
  • Collecting and Presenting Audio and Video Evidence
  • General Psychology

For more information on Everest University Online’s Criminal Investigations associate degree program, contact Everest University Online today!

Financial aid is available for those who qualify.

Tagged with: Articles, Criminal Justice

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