The real NCIS

by Angela Herring of news@Northeastern

The foren­sics lab isn’t nearly as glam­orous as tele­vi­sion would have you think. Jacquelyn Horman would know. The chem­istry major had watched her fair share of the police pro­ce­dural dramas NCIS and CSI: Miami before landing a co-​​op job with the crime lab at the Mesa, Ariz., police depart­ment. The lab work — not glitzy but crit­ical to inves­ti­ga­tions — strength­ened her interest in the field, she said.

Last semester Horman got her dream co-​​op job, working with the spe­cial agents at the Naval Crim­inal Inves­tiga­tive Ser­vice at Camp Lejeune in North Car­olina. Instead of ana­lyzing end­less blood and drug sam­ples behind the work­bench, Horman dusted for fin­ger­prints, col­lected pho­to­graphic evi­dence and gen­er­ally learned how to handle her­self in the pres­ence of a dead body at a crime scene. “You have to detach your­self from it,” she said.

The most dif­fi­cult aspect of the job was learning how to think like a crim­inal. “If I were dusting a car, they’d tell me to think, ‘Would they have leaned against it here?’ or ‘would they have jim­mied the window?’” she said. “It got to the point where I would say, ‘If I were taking a radio out of a car, where would I put my hand?’”

Horman orig­i­nally thought she wanted to work in the lab after grad­u­ating this winter, but her co-​​op expe­ri­ence redi­rected her desire toward working in the field. She has already had dis­cus­sions with one city-​​level crime unit and hopes even­tu­ally to make it back to NCIS.

Horman believes her sci­ence back­ground will help her solve crim­inal cases, saying, “What you do to ana­lyze a sci­ence problem — being very detail ori­ented and exacting — can help in a case.” But she also noted that the field of forensic sci­ence has gained pop­u­larity over the last sev­eral years, making it impor­tant for job can­di­dates to have a well-​​rounded background.

As a case in point, the crim­inal jus­tice minor noted that sev­eral senior mem­bers of the NCIS unit had a wide variety of exper­tise, including one col­league who studied French lit­er­a­ture in college.

The pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the field has also altered jury expec­ta­tions in crim­inal trials. “They expect DNA,” Horman said, adding that sample col­lec­tion is not a straight­for­ward task and should not be con­sid­ered the be all and end all of a case. “Every­body thinks it’s as easy to as it is on TV.”

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Posted in Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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