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But That's Not How it Works: The CSI Effect

We've all seen the shows. Someone dies and in rolls the CSI team in swanky suits, guns on their hips. Fast-forward through some fancy tech work and witty one-liners, and we've got our guy, all in a matter of days. After interviewing Mike Himmel, Criminal Justice Certificate Coordinator for Columbia College, we see that's not how it works. Here's a run-down of some of the biggest offenders.

Lab Work Speed - It doesn't matter what the show is, any crime is going to have evidence and someone is going to analyze it. What you don't see is how long that actually takes. For instance, fingerprint analysis can take hours, not minutes. That's not so bad though, when it's done, you know exactly who it matches, right? Well, that's another problem. In reality, if you get a match (and that's not guaranteed) you are more than likely going to get a dozen or so possible matches. Need blood analyzed? That can take four months or more.

Lab Techs: Masters of Everything - You see it all the time: there's a crime scene with a bird feather, blood stains, bones, bullet casings and a tooth. Well, time to bag it all up and send it to the tech. They'll tell us everything we need to know about it all, right? Wrong. You're actually going to need four to five people with their own specialties. Blood stains? Blood spatter analyst or a criminalist. Bones? Forensic anthropologist. The tooth? That's going to a forensic odontologist (they match teeth to dental records). That bird feather? You're going to have to find an ornithologist, preferably one with forensic experience.

Did I Mention Guns and One-Liners? You get a gun, and you get a gun, everybody gets a gun! Oh, sunglasses and bad one-liners are also required. In reality, the investigation team doesn't carry guns. So we've got an on-duty officer/detective/crime scene investigator. That's legit, right? Yes and no. This goes back to each person having their own areas. You have the occasional person trained in multiple areas, but this is rare. So, no guns for you, CSI.

Heels - If you're a fan of Castle, you know Beckett, one of the main characters. You also know her love of heels. It seems like every important female character is in a pair of heels the majority of the time, not only walking in them, but chasing down the bad guy. How do you run anyone down in stilettos?

Infinite Magnification - This is probably the most ridiculous one. The team gets video footage from some cheap security camera and proceeds to magnify the image by a hundred times, and the image is still clear as day. Even better, they look at someone's eye and see the reflection in it. This is just wrong. No matter how nice the editing program, there's only so much you can enhance an image, and that all depends on what it was recorded with originally. 

The next time you're watching your favorite crime drama, remember some of it is just that, drama. A lot of time and effort goes into every case, and everyone plays their part. Don't believe everything you see on TV, because that's not always how it works.

This article was written by Jared Knipfel.

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