Reconstructing Shootings Using Firearmsrelated Evidence At The Scene

The reconstruction of a shooting incident is the ultimate challenge for the criminal investigator. This is arguably the most important aspect of the scene investigation. In most large police departments this will be a combined effort involving the firearms examiner, the crime scene investigator, and the lead detective. Typically the firearms examiner possesses expertise regarding firearms and ammunition components that neither the detective nor the crime scene investigator possesses. Likewise, the detective and the crime scene investigator both possess special skills of their own. The combination of these skills results in a powerful force for uncovering what took place at a crime scene and how to document and present it.

In smaller departments manpower constraints may mean that one person does the bulk of the reconstruction work. While this is a formidable task, it is certainly not beyond the abilities of many capable individuals working in smaller agencies throughout the country. Obviously more time is involved from start to finish when fewer people are involved in the effort.

The author has been conducting training classes in shooting incident reconstruction to police agencies for 30 years. These classes typically enroll a combination of firearms examiners, crime scene investigators, and detectives. This is an ideal class makeup since it allows all of the potential participants in a reconstruction to discuss areas of mutual concern and to learn more about one another's roles.

On the job the firearms examiner will be able to recognize when things do not seem to fit in a shooting scene. Being able to recognize early in the investigative process, for example, that the presence of characteristic fluted chamber marks suggests that a cartridge case was fired in a fully automatic weapon can be important thanks to having the familiarity and understanding of firearms and ammunition components that others at the scene probably do not have.

The reconstruction of a shooting incident requires both on-scene examinations and evaluations as well as laboratory testing. Laboratory testing involves the use of specialized equipment, such as microscopes, and chemical testing, such as gunshot residue testing, that cannot practically be carried out at the crime scene. Health hazards associated with most types of chemical testing further dictate that this testing be done in a laboratory environment.

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