Fundamentals of Criminal Investigations
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
Section 2.3: Crime Scene Note Taking
Accurate and thorough notes are a critical part of good crime scene documentation. As previously indicated, note taking should begin the moment the call comes in to dispatch. The time of the call, the person making the call, and all other relevant information should be documented. The location of the scene, the time of arrival at the scene, and the time of departure from the scene should all be documented.
These notes provide a permanent written record of the facts of a case that can be used in further investigation, in writing reports, and in prosecuting the case. Detailed notes can make or break a case.
Initial observations about the scene should be noted. Remember to include all five senses: Smells and other sense impressions can often be just as important as visual observations. Transient evidence—things likely to move, change, or disappear—should be given careful consideration at this point. Also, any circumstances that require a departure from standard operating procedure should be documented.
Begin taking notes as soon as possible after receiving a call and continue recording information as it is received through the investigation. Remember that taking notes often involves recording the statements of witnesses. Interviewing is a critical skill of the investigator. If possible, have witnesses write out statements.
Take notes on everything you do in an official investigative capacity. Record all facts, regardless of where they may lead. Remember that establishing a suspects innocence is just as important as establishing guilt—you don’t want to waste time barking up the wrong tree.
Be sure to record the time and date of the call, the location of the call, the officer assigned to the call, and the time of arrival at the scene. Make notes even if this basic information is recorded by dispatch.
There are several critical questions that will apply to all crime scenes: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Any information that helps answer any of these questions should be recorded. What follows are some general questions along these lines that apply to almost every case. Other questions will be case specific.
- When did the incident happen?
- When was it discovered?
- When was it reported?
- When did law enforcement arrive on the scene?
- When were the suspects arrested?
- When will the case go to court?
- Where did the incident happen?
- Where was evidence found?
- Where was evidence stored?
- Where do victims, suspects, and witnesses live?
- Where do suspects frequent most often?
- Where were suspects arrested?
Concerning the Suspects:
- Who are suspects?
- Who are accomplices?
- COMPLETE descriptions: gender, race, coloring, age, height, weight, hair (color, style) eyes (color, glasses) and any distinguishing characteristics such as a unique walk or an accent.
- Who had a motive?
Concerning Victims and Witnesses:
- Who were the victims?
- Who were the witnesses?
- Who saw or heard something important?
- Who reported the incident?
- Who made a complaint?
Concerning Law Enforcement:
- Who was assigned the case?
- Who else investigated the incident?
- Who Marked and received evidence?
- Who was notified?
- What type of crime was committed?
- What was the amount of property damage involved?
- What happened? (Narrative reports from all sources)
- What evidence was found?
- What preventive measures had been taken?
- What skills, knowledge, and strengths were required to commit the crime?
- What was said?
- What did law enforcement do?
- What further information is needed?
- What further action is needed?
- How was the crime discovered?
- How does this crime relate to other crimes?
- How was evidence found?
- Why was the crime committed? (intent, consent, motive)
- Why was certain property stolen?
- Why was a particular time selected?
Note Taking Procedural Summary
Detailed entry/exit logs should be created. An entry/exit log is used to document the people who come to and go from a crime scene during the investigation. People who were at the crime scene before the investigation began are also noted in this log. The officer monitoring the log, the “Log Officer,” is assigned the task by the Supervising Officer and is responsible for completing this task and monitoring the log at all times.
The Log Officer is responsible for ensuring that the log is filled out thoroughly and anyone entering the scene has a stated purpose there. Position the log so that it is clearly visible. Set up the log for people to use when arriving to and departing from the scene.
Record the following information about the crime scene:
- Crime scene location
- Name of witnesses
- Name of victims
- Name of persons taken into custody
- Name of first responders and approximate arrival times
- Name of Supervising Officer and approximate arrival time (approximate time should be used if arrival time was before the log was established)
Record the information below for each person at the scene. If not using an official logbook or forms, leave spaces where this information can be recorded: Arrival date, Time of arrival, Name, Identification, and Unit numbers, Organization (if not with the investigating department), and reason for being at the scene.
Log information should include the arrival and departure times of all personnel at the crime scene, including the Coroner or Medical Examiner, crime scene technicians, and State’s Attorney. It should also contain information about who is at the crime scene and why they are there, incident number, first responder names, Log Officer name, Supervising Officer name, shield numbers, Unit numbers, location of the crime scene; the name of the victim(s).
Before making it available to crime scene visitors, record logistical data (time, crime scene location, names of victims and witnesses, etc.) in the entry/exit log. Ensure that the departure time for any person departing from the scene is recorded prior to that person actually leaving. If someone exits the scene without reporting to the Log Officer, that officer can enter an estimated departure time along with a note stating the rationale for it being estimated. Store the log in a secure location and as mandated by departmental regulations.
Modification History File Created: 05/02/2019 Last Modified: 05/15/2019
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