Forensic experts identify keys to crimes

Special Agent Tam Reed dusts a crime scene area for fingerprints. She is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

Special Agent Tam Reed dusts a crime scene area for fingerprints. She is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

Special Agent Tam Reed carefully pours a dental solution into a mock footprint to get a three-dimensional impression of the shoe sole. The technique, called casting, results in a hardened mold in about 45 minutes. It can also be used to take car tire impressions as well as two-dimensional impressions, such as footprints on slick floor surfaces or fingerprints on window sills. Agent Reed is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

Special Agent Tam Reed carefully pours a dental solution into a mock footprint to get a three-dimensional impression of the shoe sole. The technique, called casting, results in a hardened mold in about 45 minutes. It can also be used to take car tire impressions as well as two-dimensional impressions, such as footprints on slick floor surfaces or fingerprints on window sills. Agent Reed is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

Special Agent Jeremy Gage deposits a gluing agent on a bullet shell to preserve a fingerprint on the shell. Agent Gage is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

Special Agent Jeremy Gage deposits a gluing agent on a bullet shell to preserve a fingerprint on the shell. Agent Gage is a forensic science consultant with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Bobby Jones)

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. -- For forensic science consultants at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations' 33rd Field Investigations Squadron, criminal investigations in the Air Force begin at the crime scene.

The work of Air Force forensic science consultants is similar to that of criminal investigators in the television show "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," said the squadron's Special Agent Tam Reed.

"However, unlike CSI, we don't get lab results back within an hour," said Agent Reed, an AFOSI agent since joining the Air Force in 2000.

The squadron doesn't have its own lab for processing physical evidence from a crime scene, said Special Agent Jeremy R. Gage.

"Our role at a crime scene is to identify items with potential evidentiary value and collect those items for laboratory analysis," Agent Gage said. "We work with a number of labs to conduct the analysis of potential evidence."

The agents primarily use the Army Criminal Investigations Laboratory at Fort Gillem, Ga., Agent Gage said. All military investigative organizations, which include AFOSI, Naval Criminal Investigative Services and Army Criminal Investigation Command, send their physical evidence from crime scenes to the Army Criminal Laboratory.

Forensic science consultants are a select group of OSI special agents, Agent Reed said. They investigate murders, rapes, assaults, child abuse, suicides, arsons and bombings.

The squadron also provides counterintelligence support in the Washington, D.C., area, Agent Reed said.

Agent Reed and Agent Gage are each responsible for a region of the country. Her territory includes Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. Agent Gage covers Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Maine, Delaware, New Hampshire and Vermont.

At any time, Agents Reed and Gage can be called to a crime scene in their area of responsibility.

"We like to collect as much physical evidence as we can to either identify someone or clear someone from a list of suspects," Agent Reed said. "Physical evidence doesn't lie. It can't perjure itself on the stand in court. But its interpretation can be misunderstood. It's a piece of the puzzle. Without it, the case might be left to a lot of hearsay or relying on people's memories."

The agents use a variety of equipment at the crime scene, such as an ultraviolet fingerprint detector, a total scene mapping system and digital photography. They also analyze bloodstains at the scene.

Additionally, the agents are available to field agents in their areas of responsibility.

"If field agents can't get in touch with their primary FIS, they call us 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Agent Reed. "Over the phone, we provide advice for them on crime scene processing and evidence collection."

Forensic science consultants attend autopsies to determine the cause and manner of death and to identify and collect the body, she said.

The special agents have a new tasking, Agent Reed said. They now provide forensic science training to the Afghanistan police.

Agent Reed said her favorite part of the job is having the opportunity to work with many of the 250 AFOSI field agents in the southeastern part of the country.

"I consult with them on cases and I support them in their cases," she said.

Agent Gage said he likes the fast-paced nature of the job.

"I'm constantly moving from one high-profile investigation to another," said Agent Gage, who began his AFOSI career in 1998. "Each new investigation and crime scene offer new challenges. Every crime scene is a puzzle. It's the investigator's job to determine what information the scene possesses that will help resolve the allegation."

There are times when he spends several weeks on the road flying from one base to another to help in a criminal investigation or train AFOSI agents, he said. He's also on call 365 days a year. When he takes leave, he still fields phone calls from AFOSI agents and provides agents with guidance.

The Air Force has eight forensic science consultants. Six are in the United States, while the other two are stationed abroad.

Many people have misconceptions about what forensic science consultants do in the Air Force, Agent Reed said. Some television shows give the impression the work of forensic science consultants is more glamorous than it really is.

Glamorous or not, "it's real for us because we feel and empathize with the families," she said.