Today, we have retired Detective Sergeant, John Paolucci! He’s the president of Forensics4Real where he trains law enforcement and students in venues such as the Henry Lee Academy.
In this two-part series called So What IS Forensics? John will help us understand the basics of Forensics and provide answers to our questions.
Here is John!
So What IS Forensics
For me personally, I like to throw the word “forensics” around at every opportunity because it sounds cool and chicks dig it! That doesn’t do much for you the reader though. The best way to define forensics, although its application has ballooned beyond these parameters, would be to say that when science is applied to a criminal investigation, you have forensics. Some stretches would be forensic accountants, computer forensics, and although professionals from these fields do sport the requisite pocket protector, there are those who are dubious when it comes to calling their work “science”.
I have spent many years in the NYPD Police Laboratory where virtually every type of forensic analysis and comparison is performed; with the exception of DNA analysis, which is performed by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, Department of Forensic Biology (FBio).
I spent a lot of time in their facility as well, but being a cop, they never let me touch anything. New York City is very compartmentalized in that the laboratory personnel or “criminalists” are civilians. And the crime scene investigators who work out in the field are cops.
The major drawback is that our laboratory technicians don’t get to shoot perpetrators, narrowly escape fiery explosions or become victims of kidnappings – all in outfits suitable to go “clubbing” in – like they do on TV.
More recent developments in protocols do allow for a criminalist to respond to a crime scene and make snap decisions as to whether or not certain evidence would be promising to produce a result in the laboratory and help identify the perpetrator.
There are so many types of forensic analyses and comparisons that can be performed to help reconstruct events and place a perpetrator at a scene or some of the scene on the perpetrator.
Microscopically, what we call “Trace Evidence” has very unique qualities. Tiny fragments of glass can be found on clothing when a perpetrator breaks a window to gain entry to a crime scene. Glass has “class characteristics” such as is this glass from a window, light bulb or automobile? When class has been determined, this glass is then analyzed to determine properties such as thickness, density, curvature, fluorescence under UV lighting, optical properties and sometimes a “jigsaw Match” to fragments from the crime scene. This tiny little fragment can prove itself to be very unlike any other tiny little fragment of glass and could not have come from any source other than the window at the crime scene.
Similar tests and comparisons can be done with things like paint, plastic bags, fibers and the list goes on. The “Questioned Documents” unit can detect forgeries, restore redacted or obliterated writing on a document, and detect erasures.
Footwear and tire wear can be as unique as a fingerprint. How? We all have a unique gait that causes distinctive wear patterns in the soles of our footwear. Also, a pebble stuck in the tread or glass that you stepped on that damaged the tread pattern; all of this makes your footprint unlike any other. And that curb you clipped with your car or bottle you ran over? Well you just gave your tire characteristics no one else’s tire has.
So using all this “trace” evidence, we can say, “Your car was there” or “Your Pants were there”….but not “You were there”. For this we need what are called “Biometric Identifiers” or more commonly, fingerprints and DNA.
John Paolucci is a retired Detective Sergeant from NYPD who worked his last eight years in the Forensic Investigations Division, four of them as a Crime Scene Unit supervisor.
He was the first ever to command the OCME Liaison Unit where he vetted and managed all DNA evidence collected in New York City. He developed a strong alliance between the Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and NYPD and was instrumental in developing new protocols and procedures regarding forensic evidence collection and documentation. He also worked as a Narcotics Undercover and Patrol Officer in the Housing Projects of the South Bronx.
He is currently the president of Forensics 4 Real Inc., and trains students and law enforcement in forensic evidence and crime scene investigations. He also provides consultations with movie and television writers, directors and developers working on real crime shows and dramas. As President of Forensics 4 Real Inc. he has provided forensic support to private investigations and traveled to Paraguay where he exhumed a body for the collection of DNA evidence to assist in an insurance fraud case.