Section 2.3: Crime Scene Note Taking

Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation by Adam J. McKee

Accurate and comprehensive note-taking stands as a cornerstone of meticulous crime scene documentation. From the moment a call reaches dispatch, the intricate process of documenting every detail begins. Capturing the time of the call, the identity of the caller, and all pertinent details forms the foundation of a reliable investigative record.

The Importance of Detailed Notes

These notes serve as an enduring record of the case’s facts, instrumental in the ongoing investigation, report writing, and eventual prosecution. The depth and accuracy of these notes can significantly impact the outcome of a case. Initial impressions of the scene are crucial. Investigators are trained to utilize all their senses, not just sight. The smell of smoke or the faint sound of a ticking clock might provide critical clues. Attention to transient evidence—elements that could move, alter, or vanish—is paramount at this early stage. Moreover, any deviations from standard procedure must be meticulously recorded.

Continuous Documentation

The task of note-taking begins with the initial call and extends throughout the investigation. This continuous record includes witness statements, which are vital. Effective interviewing skills are essential, and whenever possible, having witnesses write down their accounts is beneficial.

Document everything related to the investigation, from actions taken to information gathered. It’s crucial to record all facts objectively, as establishing a suspect’s innocence is equally as important as proving guilt. Misdirected efforts not only waste valuable time but can also divert resources from uncovering the truth.

Ensure that each note includes the call’s time and date, the location from where the call was made, the assigned officer, and the arrival time at the scene. This practice is essential, even if dispatch logs these details, to ensure nothing is overlooked.

Key Questions for Every Scene

Certain questions are universally relevant across all crime scenes: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Recording information that addresses these inquiries is vital. While some questions are general and apply broadly, others will be specific to the case at hand.

By adhering to these practices, investigators ensure they collect a thorough and accurate account of the crime scene. This diligence in note-taking not only aids in the immediate investigation but also contributes to a well-founded case that stands up to scrutiny during prosecution.

🔍 Reflect

Think about the role of detailed note-taking in ensuring justice. How might overlooked details or undocumented observations impact a case?

The “When” Factor in Crime Scene Investigation

Timing plays a pivotal role in unraveling the sequence of events in a crime scene investigation. Documenting the timeline accurately can shed light on the progression of the incident, help establish alibis, and pinpoint opportunities for gathering evidence. Here’s a breakdown of critical “when” questions that investigators keep at the forefront of their note-taking.

Documenting the Timeline

  • When did the incident happen? Pinpointing the exact time of the incident can help correlate witness statements and verify alibis. It sets the stage for understanding the event’s context.
  • When was it discovered? The time between the incident occurring and its discovery can influence the condition of the scene and the evidence.
  • When was it reported? The gap between discovery and reporting can affect the integrity of the evidence and the witnesses’ memory accuracy.
  • When did law enforcement arrive on the scene? This marks the beginning of the formal investigation and is crucial for understanding the scene’s condition upon official observation.
  • When were the suspects arrested? The timing of arrests can be critical in establishing a timeline of events and securing evidence.
  • When will the case go to court? Although speculative at the initial stages, estimating a court date can be essential for preparing the case and ensuring evidence is preserved and presented correctly.

The Impact of Timing

Understanding the timeline is not just about recording times and dates; it’s about weaving together a narrative that makes sense of the evidence. It involves scrutinizing the sequence of events for inconsistencies, identifying potential witnesses, and determining the window of opportunity for the crime to have occurred.

The precision of this timeline often directly influences the investigation’s direction, the development of theories, and the identification of suspects. It also plays a critical role in the courtroom, where the sequence of events can be pivotal to the case’s outcome.

🔍 Reflect

Consider the implications of inaccuracies in documenting the timing of events in a crime scene investigation. How might errors in timing affect the investigation and the pursuit of justice?

The “Where” Dimension in Crime Scene Investigation

In crime scene investigations, the “where” questions are crucial for piecing together the physical context of the incident. They help investigators establish the geography of the crime, track the movement of suspects and victims, and secure and manage evidence. Let’s explore the essential “where” questions that guide the investigative process.

Mapping the Scene and Beyond

  • Where did the incident happen? Identifying the exact location of the incident provides the spatial context for all subsequent investigation steps. It helps in understanding the environment, potential entry and exit points, and the layout that could influence the crime’s execution.
  • Where was evidence found? The locations where evidence is discovered can significantly affect the interpretation of events. It can suggest the sequence of actions, points of struggle, or paths taken by the perpetrator or the victim.
  • Where was evidence stored? Proper evidence storage is critical for preserving the integrity of physical clues. Documenting the storage location ensures the chain of custody is maintained, a vital factor in the evidence’s admissibility in court.
  • Where do victims, suspects, and witnesses live? The residential locations of involved parties can provide insights into their relationships, potential motives, or alibis. It also assists in building profiles and establishing patterns of behavior.
  • Where do suspects frequent most often? Understanding the habitual locations visited by suspects can offer leads on potential witnesses, additional evidence, or establish patterns that support investigative theories.
  • Where were suspects arrested? The arrest location can sometimes shed light on a suspect’s intentions, possible hideouts, or connections to other elements within the case.

Leveraging Geography in Investigations

The spatial data gathered through these questions aids in creating a comprehensive picture of the crime scene and its connections to all involved entities. By meticulously mapping out the “where,” investigators can better understand the crime’s dynamics, predict where further evidence might be found, and strategize their approach to surveillance and apprehension efforts.

Moreover, the geographical analysis supports the prosecution by providing a tangible framework upon which the events’ narrative can be constructed, making it easier for juries to visualize and comprehend the case’s details.


Imagine the complexity of a crime scene where the locations of key evidence are unclear. How might uncertainties in the “where” aspects affect the investigation’s direction and outcomes?

Navigating the “Who” in Crime Scene Investigations

In the intricate puzzle of crime scene investigation, the “who” questions are fundamental, guiding the identification and understanding of all involved parties—suspects, victims, witnesses, and law enforcement personnel. These inquiries delve into identities, relationships, and actions, forming the backbone of the investigative narrative.

Unraveling Suspect Identities and Associations

  • Who are the suspects? Identifying individuals who may be responsible for the crime is the investigation’s primary focus. Understanding their backgrounds, behaviors, and connections to the crime scene or the victim is crucial.
  • Who are accomplices? Often, crimes involve more than one person. Identifying accomplices can uncover the broader network or plan behind the incident.
  • Complete descriptions are vital for identifying and locating suspects. This includes physical characteristics like gender, race, age, height, weight, hair and eye color, and any distinguishing features such as tattoos, scars, unique mannerisms, or accents.
  • Who had a motive? Uncovering who stands to gain from the crime can narrow down suspects and provide leads on potential motives.

Understanding the Impact on Victims and Witnesses

  • Who were the victims? Knowing who suffered from the crime provides insights into the crime’s nature and possible motives.
  • Who were the witnesses? Witnesses can offer crucial information about the crime’s circumstances, the suspect’s identity, and the sequence of events.
  • Who saw or heard something important? Even minor details recounted by witnesses can break a case wide open.
  • Who reported the incident? The person who reports the crime can sometimes be a witness or even a suspect, offering early leads in the investigation.
  • Who made a complaint? Complaints might precede or follow a crime, indicating potential conflicts, threats, or motives.

Coordinating Law Enforcement Efforts

  • Who was assigned the case? Identifying the lead investigator(s) helps streamline communication and coordination of the investigation.
  • Who else investigated the incident? Collaborations among different law enforcement members or departments can provide a multidisciplinary approach to solving the crime.
  • Who marked and received evidence? Tracking the chain of custody for evidence is crucial for its integrity and admissibility in court.
  • Who was notified? Documentation of who was informed about the incident and subsequent findings can be important for procedural accountability and transparency.

The “who” questions in crime scene investigations serve not only to identify and profile the individuals directly involved but also to outline the structure of the investigation itself. By thoroughly addressing these queries, investigators can weave together the complex tapestry of human interactions, motives, and movements that define each unique case.

🔍 Reflect

Consider how incomplete or inaccurate information about any of the involved parties could influence the direction and efficacy of a crime scene investigation. What are the implications of such gaps or errors in understanding the ‘who’ of a crime scene?

The “What” of Crime Scene Investigations

The “what” questions in crime scene investigations are instrumental in piecing together the nature and extent of the crime. They help investigators form a comprehensive picture of the incident, from the type of crime committed to the details of law enforcement’s response and the identification of evidence. Here’s a closer look at these crucial questions.

Understanding the Crime and Its Impact

  • What type of crime was committed? Identifying the nature of the crime sets the stage for the investigation, influencing the approach, methods, and resources required.
  • What was the amount of property damage involved? Assessing the extent of property damage helps quantify the crime’s impact and can provide insights into the perpetrator’s intentions or methods.
  • What happened? Compiling narrative reports from victims, witnesses, and first responders offers a multifaceted view of the event, capturing different perspectives and details.
  • What evidence was found? Documenting the evidence gathered at the scene is fundamental to building a case. This includes physical items, biological traces, digital data, and environmental markers.
  • What preventive measures had been taken? Understanding existing security measures can reveal vulnerabilities exploited by the perpetrator and suggest areas for improvement to prevent future incidents.

Analyzing the Crime’s Execution

  • What skills, knowledge, and strengths were required to commit the crime? Analyzing the complexity and execution of the crime can offer clues about the suspect’s background and potential connections to other incidents.
  • What was said? Capturing statements made by victims, witnesses, and suspects can provide valuable insights into the motives, relationships, and dynamics at play.

Evaluating Law Enforcement Response and Next Steps

  • What did law enforcement do? Documenting the actions taken by responding officers and investigators outlines the initial response and subsequent investigative steps.
  • What further information is needed? Identifying gaps in the current understanding of the incident guides the next phases of the investigation, highlighting areas for further inquiry.
  • What further action is needed? Determining the next steps, whether it’s gathering additional evidence, conducting more interviews, or enhancing security measures, is essential for progressing the investigation and ensuring justice.

The answers to these “what” questions form the backbone of the investigative report, providing a detailed account of the crime, the response, and the ongoing needs of the investigation. By methodically addressing each question, investigators ensure nothing is overlooked, and all avenues of inquiry are pursued.

🔍 Reflect

Think about the challenges investigators might face in answering these ‘what’ questions comprehensively. How do limitations in evidence, witness reliability, or resources impact the ability to build a clear picture of the crime?

Addressing the “How” in Crime Scene Investigations

The “how” questions in crime scene investigations delve into the methodologies behind discovering the crime, connecting it to other incidents, and uncovering evidence. These inquiries are crucial for understanding the crime’s discovery, its broader implications, and the effectiveness of the evidence collection process. Let’s explore these aspects in more detail.

Discovering the Crime

  • How was the crime discovered? This question seeks to uncover the circumstances leading to the crime’s detection, whether it was through a victim’s report, a witness’s observation, an alarm system alert, or law enforcement patrol. The manner of discovery can sometimes provide early leads or indicate patterns relevant to the investigation.

Linking to Other Crimes

  • How does this crime relate to other crimes? Identifying connections between the current crime and previous incidents can be pivotal. This involves analyzing the modus operandi, the nature of the targets, the geographical locations, and any recurring suspects or victim profiles. Establishing these links can help in understanding the perpetrator’s motives, methods, and potential next moves.

Uncovering Evidence

  • How was evidence found? This question addresses the strategies and techniques employed in locating and securing evidence at the crime scene. It encompasses the use of forensic methods, search patterns, technology (like surveillance footage analysis or digital forensics), and canine units, among others. The effectiveness and thoroughness of these methods directly impact the investigation’s progress and the strength of the case built against suspects.

By meticulously exploring these “how” questions, investigators can enhance their understanding of the crime, improve methodologies for future investigations, and bolster the case for prosecution. Each aspect, from discovery to evidence collection, requires careful consideration and skillful execution to ensure no detail is overlooked and no connection is missed.

🔍 Reflect

Consider the complexities involved in answering the ‘how’ questions, especially in terms of evidence collection. How might advancements in technology or changes in investigative techniques impact the answers to these questions over time?

Exploring the “Why”

The “why” questions in crime scene investigations probe the motivations and reasons behind criminal actions, providing crucial insights into the perpetrator’s mindset and objectives. Understanding why a crime was committed, why specific items were targeted, and why a particular time was chosen can significantly influence the direction and outcomes of an investigation. Let’s delve into these questions to grasp their importance in solving crimes.

Unraveling Motivations and Intentions

  • Why was the crime committed? This question seeks to uncover the intent, consent, and motive behind the crime. Intent can show premeditation or spontaneity, consent involves the relationship dynamics between the victim and the perpetrator, and motive provides the underlying reason, whether it be financial gain, personal vendetta, or psychological compulsion. Together, these elements help paint a picture of the perpetrator’s mindset and potential patterns of behavior.

Analyzing Targeted Property

  • Why was certain property stolen? The selection of specific items for theft can reveal much about the criminal’s objectives, needs, or preferences. High-value items might suggest financial motives, while personal items could indicate a targeted attack against the victim. Understanding the selection can also aid in tracing the stolen goods and possibly the perpetrator.

Timing the Crime

  • Why was a particular time selected? The timing of a crime can provide insights into the perpetrator’s planning and opportunity. It might align with the victim’s schedule, ensuring their absence, or it might exploit a period of reduced security or surveillance. Analyzing the timing can also reveal if the crime was opportunistic or meticulously planned.

Addressing the “why” questions enables investigators to build profiles of potential suspects and understand the broader context of the crime. This understanding can guide investigative strategies, from interviewing techniques to surveillance operations, and play a crucial role in presenting the case in court.

🔍 Reflect

Think about the challenges of establishing clear motives in complex cases. How might ambiguity in the ‘why’ affect the investigation and the prosecution of the crime?

Efficient Note-Taking and Log-Keeping at Crime Scenes

In crime scene investigations, maintaining detailed entry and exit logs is crucial for documenting the presence and movements of individuals during the investigative process. This procedural summary outlines the best practices for creating and managing these logs effectively.

Establishing Entry/Exit Logs

  • Purpose of the Log: The entry/exit log serves as a comprehensive record of everyone who accesses the crime scene during the investigation, including those present before official procedures commence.
  • The Log Officer: Assigned by the Supervising Officer, this individual is tasked with the vital role of maintaining the log, ensuring its accuracy, and monitoring access to the scene. Their responsibilities include verifying the purpose of each person’s presence at the scene and recording their information accurately.

Setting Up the Log

  • Visibility and Accessibility: Position the log in a clear, accessible location for all entering or exiting the scene. The setup should facilitate easy use by all personnel and visitors.
  • Information to Record for the Crime Scene: Include critical details like the crime scene location, names of witnesses, victims, individuals in custody, first responders with their arrival times, and the Supervising Officer’s name and arrival time. If the log is established after some have arrived, approximate times should be noted.

Recording Individual Entries

  • For Each Person: The log must capture arrival date, time of arrival, name, identification, and unit numbers. For those not affiliated with the investigating department, record their organization and the reason for their presence at the scene.
  • Comprehensive Coverage: Ensure the log reflects the arrival and departure times of all personnel, including specialized roles like the Coroner, Medical Examiner, crime scene technicians, and legal representatives from the State’s Attorney’s office.

Log Maintenance and Security

  • Before Opening the Scene: Log essential logistical data (time, location, victim and witness names, etc.) before allowing crime scene visitors. Always record a person’s departure time before they leave. If someone leaves without checking out, the Log Officer should note an estimated departure time and the reason for the estimation.
  • Securing the Log: Keep the log in a secure location following departmental guidelines to preserve the integrity of the investigation and ensure accountability.

This procedural approach to log-keeping at crime scenes is designed to bolster the investigation’s integrity, ensuring a clear, auditable record of all individuals’ movements and activities within the crime scene. By adhering to these guidelines, investigative teams can maintain a controlled environment that safeguards the evidence and supports the pursuit of justice.

🔍 Reflect

Think about the challenges that might arise if the entry/exit log is not maintained accurately or securely. How could this impact the investigation and the credibility of the evidence collected?

Modification History

File Created:  05/02/2019

Last Modified:  04/04/2024

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