Webinar presenters Greg McDonald and Michael Delaney answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Crime Scene Responsibilities for the First Responder. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: What are your thoughts on recording the condition of the scene with body cameras? What are your thoughts on that?
Greg McDonald: We are used to that. Quite a few agencies here in Washington D.C already utilize body cameras. You can’t replicate what you get from a patrol officer’s point of view. We actually just had a homicide here maybe a month ago. Unfortunately, a female was murdered inside her apartment building. The municipality that responded to the scene, they had body cameras on. They actually encountered one of the suspects who jumped five flights down, shattered his leg and the body cameras recorded everything including the victim, her position when they found her, the location where they found the suspect, the evidence that the suspect attempted to steal from her. Body cameras that’s actually become police’s best friend moving forward.
Audience Question: You talked about using your police radio to record a dying declaration. Two questions. Can you clarify by what you mean dying declaration? What do you think of using one of the recording apps on someone’s personal cell phone?
Michael Delaney: A dying declaration like we discussed if a victim suffers an injury that was sustained during the criminal activity and the victim later dies from that injury and officer arrive on the scene, and the victim prior to dying, makes a statement regarding the crime that occurred against them, then that has been deemed as admissible in court. The second question was about utilizing an app to record? Can you go over that again?
Audience Question: What do you think about using your personal cell phone and using one of the many recording apps that are out there on your personal cell phone to take a recording of that person’s dying declaration?
Greg McDonald: That’s fine also. In a recent law stated, the police radio earlier is that’s something you don’t have to look for, something you don’t have to turn on, and you going to have a body mic and if that person makes a dying declaration, then it’s always easier to take control of the station and just key to mic and let the victim make their dying declaration. Now, using a cellphone is not bad but that’s just another something else that you got to go pull out of your pocket, get to the app, turn on, and you may miss what the victim is saying where versus radio is readily available.
Michael Delaney: So again Chris just to add on to that, it’s just an option, there’s no wrong answer to that. I know a lot of officers that keep microphones up on their lapel and all they have to do is reach out and hit a button and they begin to transmit over the air, and that’s the quickest form of recording unless their body cam video is on.
Audience Question: We’ve had a number of questions not just with this particular webinar but in the past also about the use of individual personal cellphones. Is it okay to capture footage with their personal cellphone or is that a problem because it might mean that their phones could be taken as evidence? What’s your experience with that?
Greg McDonald: We understand that but getting the evidence off of an officer phone for us particular is not a problem. We can do it quite quick. We actually have what we call Digital Imaging Systems where we upload all our video evidence. Even patrol officers go out and they respond to just a regular car accident, they photograph the scene that they can upload that video or audio, any picture that they take to the server and store it there for under the case number for that incident they are investigating. So an officer’s cellphone, for us also we have to bring the phone in, we can download their phone, right then and there and give them their phone back.
Michael Delaney: We’ve also had situations where a suspect involved in a shooting or someone assisting a suspect may have portions of the crime that’s recorded on their phone whether its audio, or video recording and we had to seize phones as well and in that case we have to attain a search warrant to access the phone and download the information from that phone and requisite a recording. A phone is also a good way to record that information.
Audience Question: Should the first responding officer ever attempt to question a suspect?
Greg McDonald: That’s tricky. If the suspect is making utterances, just let him make utterances and you document everything that he’s stating with a body cam or cellphone if that’s all you got and record it. Take good notes of it. I would not advise the patrol officer to question the suspect, first of all, you got the Miranda out of the suspect and that’s something you got to play the hand you dealt. You should try to not get a habit of questioning the suspect, no.
Michael Delaney:But I do want to add if you do have a suspect that is talking when an officer arrives on the scene, let that suspect talk and what we do is like we’re saying about recording, some of the incidents that occur during a crime, you can record what he or she is saying and be sure to immediately brief that lead investigator of that utterance because a lot of times when you catch them when their adrenaline is really running high and they may not make that same comment or statement, once they’re back at the station you know they relax a little bit so that’s some important information there.
Audience Question: When you are hearing this person make their spontaneous utterances, do you need to notify them that you are recording or can you just simply hit the record button on your body cam and let them talk?
Michael Delaney: Let them talk. You don’t have to notify them, you can let them talk and record.
Audience Question: Is an initial first responder responsible for both a primary and a secondary crime scene or should those be split sometimes depending on where the secondary crime scene is located?
Greg McDonald: That’s definitely going to be split unless it’s a scene where it’s all contained in one location. You got a secondary crime scene, that room upstairs and a bedroom downstairs. Those two different crime scenes aside one resident, macro and micro-crime scenes. It depends on the crime scene now. I’ve had crime scenes where the incident occurred at one address, the suspect fled to another address, where we locate the suspect and where the evidence was located at the suspect’s address, yeah you got two different crime scenes. The first respondent officer that gets on the scene is going to dictate whether he or she needs other officers to respond. There is a lot that they have to deal with. A lot there’s going on, they’re going to gather information quite quickly and reiterating, you got to keep broadcasting information update over the radio and you’re the director, you’re the conductor that day. So you going to direct officers to a location that you’re going to need them to go. You got to stay in control of the scene and we can all do it, we’ve all done it. There’s nothing impossible that none of us had our face before and came through successfully.
Michael Delaney: I just want to add that a lot of times you may have young and inexperienced officers as the first responding officer and they can be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, but they have to take control of that situation. You have other people there you are responding in to assist but you cannot be afraid to ask for help.
Audience Question: How would you feel about forensic technicians or crime scene technicians wearing body cameras? What are your thoughts on that?
Greg McDonald: I don’t foresee our evidence unit wearing body cameras. They don’t need to because they come in with equipment to photograph the crime scene and document the crime scene and we also use equipment here where we take a 360-degree photo of the crime scene, a scan. So that is their body cameras, the equipment they bring on to the scene
Michael Delaney:I don’t know, I can just speak here in Prince Georges County of Maryland. I’ll think of that idea because it gives you more as a lead investigator, I would want to see that. I want to see even though we’ve experienced the walkthrough, I want to see exactly step by step how they went about locating or collecting the evidence and just to see what they go through but Greg is right we have a lot of recording devices now in play and that would add just another one to it, so I guess we may be seeing that in the future if some departments don’t already have that.
Audience Question: Are any notes that I take as a patrol officer when I arrive on the crime scene, are those all discoverable?
Greg McDonald: Yes. You should always take note on a crime scene and when you respond to a crime scene. I’ve been in trials because there was not documented notes, the defense attorney is going to say it didn’t happen.
Michael Delaney: I do want to point that out there that we’ve had incidents where they may also take photographs on their phone and within their notes, they’ve actually drawn a diagram, maybe of the scene or a vehicle on the scene or whatever. They turn that in with their notes and sometimes when the cases are kind of ironclad and they are good, like, home runs, we have good evidence, maybe a confession, the defense attorney sometimes try to pick apart with a small unimportant information like they will say, in this particular case they also did not say on his notes that his diagram was not to scale, meaning he did not have a proper dimension, the measurements and they harped on that for a long time on the stand, just from the officer’s notes. Sometimes not to confuse matters, you don’t want to put so much information into your notes but at all points you need to sit down with that lead investigator and discuss, go with your notes and if you re-write your notes or type them into a computer, you want to keep all your original notes because you will be questioned about that and you also have to update the state attorney, you know keep them on board because when the case actually goes to and investigated by the lead investigator, that investigator is working hand-in-hand with a prosecutor up until that case is presented before jury or judge so you kind of have another partner on that case once you charge someone or to get charges.
Audience Question: At what point should we have a witness make a written statement?
Michael Delaney: Well every situation is different. I know as a lead investigator, a lot of times, patrol officers have to get a statement on the scene for whatever reason. I like to sit down and speak with my witnesses myself and I like to get a statement from them myself but other investigators may be different. They may go ahead and allow the patrol officers to assist with recording a written statement and the investigator may follow up afterward. I guess that each situation is different. You may have a witness that maybe leaving town that may have to fly away or may have to leave on some emergency that can only write a statement at that point prior to an investigator getting there.
Greg McDonald: I agree. The scene dictates how we are going to handle witnesses. If you have a cooperative witness and that witness doesn’t have any great detail pertinent to that scene but they saw things, heard, or witnessed something we usually take a statement on patrol which we do that here sometimes. Patrol taking written statement from them. Make sure you get the proper identification from them if we need to follow up on them with wheel. Sometimes we are going to have a witness that solves such great detail we going to want to take them back to our office where we going to audio and videotape their statement. They just know too much information, they identify the suspect, know the suspect, so all of that. Also, don’t forget we also take statements from our respondent patrol officers here because you are a witness as well. So I don’t care when a patrol officer wrote on this date in time, I responded to this address and this is what I did. We have patrol officers there to transport witnesses from the crime scene back to our office and every time a patrol officer transports a witness for us, they have to write a written statement. It may only be three sentences but their statement on this date and time,” I transported witness whoever from this location to the Criminal Investigation Division and I place him in room number whatever.” That’s their statement. That’s how all the information becomes very important down the road you would not just understand how minute of patrol officers transporting a witness from the scene to CID, who did it? Because all that information we have to know, we have to keep up with that, it becomes pertinent.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Crime Scene Responsibilities for the First Responder.