The Watch with Will Kennedy: Inside Charlotte CSI

CHARLOTTE, NC — Crime scene investigation. The real life career is exploding, thanks to all the attention from TV shows and movies. But the men and women who work for CMPD’s CSI unit tell me reality is a long way from the Hollywood glamour.

In tonight’s watch, I’m taking you behind the crime scene tape.

We all know the initials, and the myriad of t-v shows and movies that focus on the science of CSI. Crime fighting with a serious Hollywood spin.

There’s a CSI charlotte too. But this version is reality; less glitz, more grime.

“I drive a big, white Chevy van,” says CMPD Crime Scene Investigator Rachel Vasale. “I don’t drive a Hummer.”

“The TV shows make it seem like it’s one or two, three people doing everything,” says CMPD CSI Kenny Buhr. ”When it’s just not the case.”

“We don’t drive Hummers,” says CMPD CSI Supervisor Roy Patterson. “We don’t solve crimes in five minutes.”

“And the smells, you know,” says CMPD CSI Matthew Pohlheber. “Because when you watch on TV, there’s no smells included.”

“I wear a uniform,” says Vasale. “I don’t wear heels and a pants suit to go arrest people. I don’t even arrest people. I’m just there to collect the evidence, and help put the pieces together.”

And that’s exactly what these pros do.
34 people on staff. They’re not officers. Don’t carry a gun. And they don’t arrest people.
But they do help put bad people behind bars, working with CMPD detectives to solve all kinds of cases.

“If we have questions about certain items that were picked up, certain things that were collected, we go down, we talk to the investigators,” says CMPD Detective Todd Burkard. “Figure out what they saw. How the things worked. If they noticed anything additional.”

And the men and women of CMPD CSI are highly trained. Most have bachelors degrees in forensics. Many have masters degrees in the field.

They take pictures at scenes.

“I’ll process the outside of the car, and then I’ll go in,” says Vasale, while processing a stolen vehicle. “I’m going to remove the airbags, and see if there’s anything else inside the car I can print.”

They dust for fingerprints.

“I’m looking for fingerprints,” says Buhr, on the scene of an attempted home break-in. “Just my flashlight here at an oblique angle. Sometimes you can see fingerprints showing up from there.”

They collect evidence of all sorts.

“24-7, 365 round the clock,” says CMPD CSI Supervisor Rachel Clark. “We have five shifts that cover the span of the day.”

CMPD CSI has worked more than 9,000 cases so far this year, collecting more than 34,000 pieces of evidence.
That evidence is taken back to the office, processed and then stored in Property Control with more than 320,000 items on hand.
Housed there while investigations continue, until its time to go to court, or until a convicted criminal gets out of jail.

The one place the TV shows and the real CSI do reflect, the technology.

“We have two crime scopes,” says Clark. “It’s an alternate light source that we will use to either enhance injuries or bruises that are already visible, or injuries that have either not come up yet, not surfaced, or have started to fade away.”

The vehicles are filled with much of the latest CSI tech and tools.

ROY PATTERSON ON MOCK CRIME SCENE: “This is going to spin 360 around in circles, and the camera right here is going to also do the 360,” says Patterson, while setting up a mock crime scene to show the tech. “And it captures everything up and down, as well as around.”

Including a device that records 360 degree views of crime scenes to build models, helping investigators recreate what happened, leading to more arrests and convictions.

“They’re the ones that are solving the cases,” says Detective Burkard. “They’re the ones that are getting the evidence. Lifting the fingerprints. Taking photography that can be presented in court. It’s a vital part of investigation. Without them, we wouldn’t have many cases to be made.”

I’ve had the chance to go behind the tape with CMPD CSI for homicides and death investigations. Tomorrow night, we’ll talk about the toll dealing with death can take.