The first moments at a crime scene can be critical to saving lives and ensuring justice, and now, thanks to an MTSU-led effort, a key to preserving the initial scene can be held in an officer's hand.
MTSU's Forensic Institute for Research and Education, known as FIRE, worked with seasoned investigators across the country to find a system to guide first-responding law enforcement officers through an often chaotic and confusing situation.
Now, instead of trying to juggle notepads, cameras and video recorders, new officers can immediately document crime scenes — capturing text, photographs, video, audio, GPS, dates and times — with their smartphones.
Using a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, MTSU's FIRE partnered with WillowTree Apps, an award-winning mobile application development company headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., to create CASE, a crime scene checklist app for law enforcement agencies.
LifeWings Partners Inc. of Collierville, Tenn., a health care safety and accountability consulting company, provided guidance in developing the checklist.
CASE, which stands for “Checklist App for Scene Examination,” aims to serve as a "systematic guide for the new officer who first arrives at a scene," according to the grant application prepared by FIRE's director, Dr. Hugh Berryman, for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance.
“In my 30-plus years of experience in medical examiners’ offices, I know that the scene is its most pristine when the first responding officer arrives and will deteriorate with every minute that follows,” Berryman explained.
“Time, weather and the movement of essential personnel, such as EMTs and scene investigators, can alter the scene and destroy evidence. Early documentation of evidence can make a difference in bringing justice to both the guilty and the innocent.”
Giving first responders this helpful tool will provide even more support for crime scene processing units, the developers said. The officers who are first to arrive can use the CASE app to help protect evidence for their agency's crime scene unit to handle in more depth.
The CASE app also automatically begins a 72-hour countdown when the crime scene documentation is completed. All data can be securely transferred to an external device, such as a police department computer, and after 72 hours, the data is automatically deleted from the phone.
"We focused our strategic design and development efforts on providing a streamlined, intuitive, and secure experience for first responders," said Blake Sirach, vice president of design for WillowTree. (http://www.willowtreeapps.com/apps/social-utility/case)
"This involved not only leveraging our industry expertise for building secure mobile apps, but also strategically considering the situational context of a first responder to provide a utility that promotes an unprecedented level of efficiency and education, at the time it matters most: on the crime scene.”
The CASE app is free and available for Android devices at Google Play and for iPhones at the App Store by searching for “Checklist App for Scene Examination.”
MTSU’s Forensic Institute for Research and Education offers free public lectures featuring renowned forensic science experts each semester and sponsors the CSI:MTSU camp for high school students each summer.
Established in 2007, FIRE provides regular educational and training opportunities for law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, attorneys, social workers, and other groups in forensic science and homeland security.