Red Deer RCMP Sgt. Steve Gruenberg of Red Deer Forensic Identification Services demonstrates a technique to find fingerprints.

Solving crimes behind the scenes

These crime fighters owe a big debt to Sherlock Holmes. You will not see them interview witnesses at a multi-vehicle pile-up on the highway or search for a suspicious person in a neighbourhood. These officers scour a crime scene looking for clues that will ultimately put the bad guys behind bars, just as the fictional detective Holmes does in stories created more than a century ago by Arthur Conan Doyle.

These crime fighters owe a big debt to Sherlock Holmes.

You will not see them interview witnesses at a multi-vehicle pile-up on the highway or search for a suspicious person in a neighbourhood.

These officers scour a crime scene looking for clues that will ultimately put the bad guys behind bars, just as the fictional detective Holmes does in stories created more than a century ago by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Forensic identification specialists are trained to collect and analyze evidence left behind by criminals. It could be anything from a smear of blood on a piece of clothing, fingerprints on a window glass or a footprint impression.

The Red Deer Forensic Identification Services unit boasts about nine specialists who work for 20 RCMP detachments in the province. Alberta has 10 RCMP forensic identification units.

Red Deer RCMP Sgt. Steve Gruenberg, who is in charge of the unit, said they do not attend every crime scene but definitely those that may have some sort of forensic value.

A front-line police officer may go to a break-and-enter crime scene and find evidence that forensic investigators may be able to collect.

During his time in Fort McMurray, Gruenberg worked on a homicide investigation involving a single mother. A suspect broke into her residence and killed the woman. Police had a difficult time coming up with suspects.

“At that scene, I was able to develop footwear evidence, blood, fingerprints and DNA evidence that were later on associated to the suspect who was ultimately convicted,” said Gruenberg.

“Forensic evidence definitely helped because it was initially an unknown situation. It was a whodunnit type of scenario. In that case, the footwear and fingerprint evidence certainly helped that case develop a lot quicker than it might have otherwise.”

The forensic investigators are always called for the serious person crimes such as homicide or sexual assault, and often for property crimes.

In Red Deer, the volume varies, but Gruenberg said officers are usually out at a property crime scene every day.

Sometimes forensic evidence offers the only clue left at a scene, and that makes the investigators’ role crucial in solving crimes. In most cases, there aren’t video cameras recording the scene or witnesses to the crime.

Gruenberg did not have any statistics on the success rate but he estimated that more than half the time they can match a name to a foot impression or a fingerprint to a name.

“There isn’t a lot of adrenaline rushes in our jobs,” said Gruenberg. “We don’t race out to scenes very often. And we’re not apprehending the suspect. Within our job, we try to remain unbiased as possible. We’re not out to get anybody. We just take the forensic evidence and let it speak for itself.”

The investigators wear protective clothing to preserve the evidence from cross-contamination.

And they can be called in to provide expert testimony in court. Gruenberg said they can be challenged on their background and expertise.

The police veteran has worked on more than a dozen homicide investigations — everything from drug deals gone wrong to domestic situations.

The CSI effect has brought some exposure to the role of forensic evidence in police work. The original television show CSI and its spinoffs depict investigators who solve serious crimes over the span of a couple days within the hour-long program.

Gruenberg said the reality is that sometimes the fingerprint identification process can take days or weeks, depending on the evidence.

“The show brought exposure to the field, which I think (for) forensic evidence is very important,” he said. “Sometimes with witness statements people forget things. They see things from a different perspective. Forensic evidence itself can be interpreted in different ways but it certainly is speaking in an unbiased way. It doesn’t lie. That’s why forensic evidence is very important.”

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

OTTAWA — As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for… Continue reading

Protesters say Alberta bill would make it harder to access some medical services

EDMONTON — Opponents of a private member’s bill that calls for more… Continue reading

Freeland’s imprint of foreign affairs remains even if she’s shuffled: analysts

OTTAWA — Whether or not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffles her to… Continue reading

Saskatchewan government considers funding first supervised consumption site

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan’s health minister says the government will consider whether to… Continue reading

Thousands fill City Hall Park for Red Deer Lights the Night

With the flip of a switch, downtown Red Deer was filled with… Continue reading

Central Albertans help families during holidays with Christmas Wish Breakfast

It takes a community to help a community. And Sunday morning at… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Nov. 19 The Mountview Sunnybrook Community Association will hold its AGM at… Continue reading

‘Ford v Ferrari’ speeds to No. 1; ‘Charlie’s Angels’ fizzles

NEW YORK — “Ford v Ferrari” put its competition in the rearview,… Continue reading

Teen with cancer whose viral video urged Canadians to vote has died, uncle tweets

WINNIPEG — A terminally ill cancer patient who recorded a video from… Continue reading

Five things to watch for when Trudeau shuffles his cabinet this week

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to unveil his new… Continue reading

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

VANCOUVER — A framed iconic photo in Dr. Brian Day’s office shows… Continue reading

Rowing Canada, university investigate celebrated coach for harassment, abuse

VANCOUVER — Lily Copeland felt she had found her purpose in life… Continue reading

MacKinnon scores OT winner, Avs recover from blowing late lead to beat Canucks

VANCOUVER — Nathan MacKinnon scored his second goal of the game 27… Continue reading

White House urgently ramps up push for drug cost legislation

WASHINGTON — The White House is ramping up its push to get… Continue reading

Most Read