Before collecting evidence in a wildlife crime scene, use observation techniques from a vantage point to make decisions on how you will process the scene. Efficient observation takes place when the observer is able to distinguish between the possible and impossible, the natural and unnatural, important and unimportant in order to come to a clear and accurate judgement of what happened at the scene. Follow the following steps:
- Stop and look – before approaching a scene, get an overall picture of what you can see. This is where notes taking and photographing should start.
- Look at big objects at the scene – from the same vantage point, look at the big objects on the scene. Use a circular motion or crisscross over the scene. A sketch map of the scene should start here. The investigator should begin to build up a feeling of what happened from the relationship between these objects.
- Notice the smaller objects at the scene – look at the other objects at the scene. Some of these may be obscured from where you stand. Record in your notes those that you can see and place them on your sketch map
- Move closer – only now it is time to move closer onto the scene. Move in a straight line to the main object, marking your route as you go. This will prevent your imprints on the scene later becoming confused with what was there before you arrived.
- Study each object – now look at each object at the scene and make notes, mark them, photograph and confirm the objects appear on your sketch.
- Review – review the objects and make note of how they inter-relate with each other. Also observe how the relationship between the objects helps you to form a picture of what happened at the scene. This will help you formulate your hypothesis about the crime.
Gauging Potential Evidence
In order to distinguish potential evidence from unimportant objects at the scene, you should ask yourself the following questions about each object:
- Is it unique?
- Does it have a low probability of occurring by chance?
- Is it inconsistent with the setting?
- Is it a physical match with something found on the suspect?
You can use numbered stakes or plastic beacons to number objects found on the scene. Refer to the main exhibit such as a wildlife carcass or a wildlife trophy as point 1 and radiate outwards from there.
Collection of Evidence
Once you have processed the wildlife crime scene, and prepared a sketch, you can collect the evidence. Follow these rules before collecting each piece of evidence:
- Photograph – take a photograph of the evidence before it is collected.
- Collect – wear gloves when collecting each piece of evidence to avoid contaminating it.
- Record – record the item in an inventory, the date and time of its collection and the person who collected it.
- Package – package each piece of evidence individually in the appropriate packaging.
- Seal – seal each package to avoid tampering
- Label – label each package with the incident/case number, date and time of collection.
- Photograph – photograph the packaged evidence.
Chain of Custody
This is the process of documenting the chronological history of a piece of physical evidence. It documents the individual who collected the evidence and each person that subsequently has it in his custody. Chain of custody is important for admissibility of evidence. It verifies that the same piece of physical evidence you are tendering before court is the same one that you recovered at the scene and it is the same one that the expert analyzed. You can maintain chain of custody through a standard chain of custody form issued by your law enforcement agency.
Completing and Recording the Crime Scene Investigation
Once you conclude all your activities on the crime scene, carry out final survey of the scene. Take a final photograph of the scene and properly fill out and sign inventories and the chain of custody forms. Store the exhibits securely and prepare a fair sketch of the scene. You can draw up a fair sketch map using a more accurate scale from the rough sketch which you drafted at the scene. Debrief your team and prepare your CSI report.