SHSU Students Dissect Careers in Forensics

CSI Celestina Rossi lifts fingerprints from a can.CSI Celestina Rossi lifts fingerprints from a can.

CSI Texas came to Huntsville on March 6, with real life presentations on crime scene investigations in Montgomery County and with the diverse forensic laboratories offered by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

“CSI proves that a crime has been committed, establishes key elements of the crime, links the suspect with the scene, establishes the identity of the victim and supports or refutes witnesses testimony,” said Celestina Rossi, a Senior Crime Scene Investigator from Montgomery County. “CSI is like a puzzle, and you’re putting all the pieces together.”

The DPS Crime Laboratory, with 13 locations across the state, provides a variety of services to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of crimes and is nationally known for its abilities in forensic science. Among the services they offer are biological evidence/DNA, drug testing, blood alcohol levels, firearms and tool marks, toxicology, latent fingerprints, questioned documents, digital/multimedia, and trace evidence, such as hair, fibers, paint, glass, gunshot residue, shoe prints, and tire impressions.

“You need several different sciences to get into this field,” said Jennifer Pollock, a DNA specialist as DPS in Houston. “We have to keep up with the new technology and techniques and be able to explain it to a jury.”

The Crime Scene Investigations team from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.
The Crime Scene Investigations team from the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.
Representatives from the two organizations participated in a presentation on Careers in Forensic Science during Criminal Justice Career Week at Sam Houston State University. In addition to offering glimpses into the day-to-day operations in criminal investigations, the speakers provided tips on how to get a job in the field.

Both the Montgomery County and DPS Crime Labs have some of the same devices found on the popular TV series CSI, including specialized computer databases, indoor shooting tanks for ballistics, a drug room, a gun room, a mobile unit, impound buildings and vehicles bays.

“Our crime lab looks like a biology lab,” Rossi said. DPS has many specialties along with the equipment and testing to experiment on evidence, including microscopes, luminol and high-tech laboratories.

“You have to have good lab skills and critical thinking skills,” said Pollock. “The job can be repetitive and you see the dark side of humanity.”

Shane Windsor of the DPS Ballistic Lab provided an overview of guns and ballistics evidence, discussing the many components that provide valuable information in an investigation, including the inside of the gun, the outside effects of the gun, the effects on the target it hits and the forensic elements that can be traced to guns or other weapons. The lab investigation can identify an unfired cartridge, test whether or not a gun has been fire, whether a gun is safe to test, or marks that are unique to a type of weapon or individual weapon.

Jennifer Pollock, a DNA specialist with DPS, explains what is needed to get into the field.
Jennifer Pollock, a DNA specialist with DPS, explains what is needed to get into the field.
The DPS lab used DNA evidence to link a suspect to the murder of a prostitute in a large scene littered with beer cans, condoms and a mattress as well as in the rape and murder of an 11-year old girl. Pollock's co-worker also used DNA to exonerate Michael Anthony Green, who spent 27 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

“Some cases take days and some cases take years to complete,” said Pollock. “Sometimes you never know what happened in that case you worked on.”

Rossi said she has seen it all, from murders of children to suicides. She graduated from a Wyoming college with a degree in business, and all of her expertise has been earned through the many training classes she has taken in her career.

Before committing to a CSI career, Rossi urged students to consider the working conditions. Crime scene investigators are often called out in the middle of the night and work long hours. They are called to scenes both indoors and out in the heat of the summer. Many of the victims and the scenes are bloody and gory, and they sometimes have to face child victims.

“Your goal is to find as much evidence as possible to put someone in jail beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Rossi. “You have to deal with scenes, and it’s hot 10 months a year here. There is never a “right” time – you are often called out at 2 a.m. There is a lot you don’t want to deal with.”

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