Local Agency Provides Critical Crime Scene Work
Posted May 11, 2001
RALEIGH — Every Thursday night, millions of people watch the show "CSI" on CBS, a program which profiles crime scene investigators. In Wake County, there is a whole agency dedicated to finding the clues that solve thousands of case. It is called the City-County Bureau of Identification, or CCBI.
The CCBI processes evidence at hundreds of Wake County crime scenes every month.
These are not beat officers, or detectives. They are field agents like Mike Galloway. Galloway is one of 13 agents in the CCBI.
"It's like putting together a puzzle," he says of his job.
One of Galloway's first calls on this night is a strong-arm robbery.
When Galloway interviews the victim, she tells him that "[the suspect] picked up a book, and was flipping through it. That's when I said, can I help you?"
He learns the suspect may have touched a doorknob. He dusts it, sees a fingerprint, puts clear tape on it, and then fixes the tape to a card for safekeeping.
Even though he is working a crime scene, Galloway still finds time for humor. As he gets fingerprints from the store manager, he says, "and we need the toes, too."
"Do ya? you silly thing!" laughs the manager.
"I try to use a little bit of humor when I deal with people, because they are having the worst day of their lives when they meet me," Galloway says.
An hour later, Galloway gets sent to a Raleigh day care center, where a five month girl has died. It is his job to take the pictures.
"What we're looking for is any type of trauma, blood, bruises," he says.
Galloway believes the child died from natural causes, but must treat it as if it is suspicious.
Later on, Galloway has to check out a burglary where the thieves stole cash from a baby's bank. His main objective here is to find fingerprints.
"Yeah you can tell that's definitely on the outside," he says, looking at fingerprints on a sliding glass door. "It's probably where somebody's [pushed] the door," he says.
Back at CCBI headquarters, evidence technicians like Anita Smith preserve the prints. Smith saves the prints on a gun by applying a substance similar to superglue, and heating it.
Lab partner Valerie Durham makes fingerprints appear like magic on a forged check, dipping it in a chemical called Ninhydrin.
The prints then go down the hall to CCBI fingerprint expert Johnny Leonard. He has a statewide database with millions of fingerprints at his disposal.
"This is without a doubt the best crime fighting tool that I've been involved with," says Leonard.
Supervisor Mike Grissom says the tools the CCBI uses serve 46 different law enforcement agencies.
"You can go back and look at the unsolved homicides in Wake County, and it is probably lower than it is in a lot of other places, and that's mainly because of [how we]collect evidence," says Grissom.
The problem is that CCBI says it cannot keep up with its workload. Right now agents here handle 10,000 cases a year, but there are thousands more they are not able to handle.
"Most of the time, we only have probably three to four agents at the most working on any given shift. We do the best we can with what we've got," says Grissom.
The CCBI says it needs at least six more people like Galloway. The agency has no idea if it will actually get the money to fund them, however.
The people from CCBI say there is one major difference between them and the investigators portrayed on the program CSI. The Wake County agents say unlike the actors on the show, they do not actually question suspects.