Horatio Caine is Full of Crap (Alt. Title: CSI is a TV show)

I’m going to blow your mind with one simple sentence.  Ready?  Hold on to something…

Fingerprinting is bullshit.

I know, I know.  Hear me out, though, I’ll explain.  First, let me clarify.  Fingerprinting as you know it is bullshit.  There are hardworking crime scene techs the world over that do amazing work and fingerprinting is part of that work.  They are well-trained and much smarter than me, your average cop on the street.  They go through Lord knows how many hours of crime scene specific training.  I do know, however, that it is a whole heck of a lot more than I do.

Consequently, when I show up to your misdemeanor vandalism and you want me to fingerprint the rock some crankster threw through the rear window of your ’96 Mazda MPV because your crankster son stiffed them, I will laugh at you.  Right at you.  Because you watch too much TV.  (I actually had that detail a number of years ago.  No joke.  If only I had a blog seven years ago.)

This is not CSI.  That schmuck that left NYPD Blue for ridiculous theme songs and stupid glasses isn’t going to rappel from the CSI chopper to fingerprint your damn rock.  (On a side note, I’m glad he left NYPD Blue.  Greedy bastard made way for Jimmy Smits.  He rocked).  By the way, I will also not place your rock in a solarium with some super glue to magically make a fingerprint appear a la Axel Foley.

I have fingerprinted my fair share of scenes.  I hate it and it is mostly pointless, but it’s good PR.  Folks think we’re “doing our jobs”.  Truth be told, we are.  The sad fact, however, is that one of three results will occur.

1. Bad guys wear gloves; therefore we will find nothing.  You can blame TV for this one, too.  Bad guys watch cop shows.  They freaking love them.  No clue why, but it’s true.  At any rate, they see all the b.s. drama about someone getting popped because he left a pinky print on the vanity and think to themselves, “Daaammmnnnn…I need to get me some gloves, yo.”

2. The fingerprints will be smudged and useless.  It takes something like seven distinct points of contact to make a match with a fingerprint.  (You legit CSI folks feel free to correct me).  One practically has to roll one’s fingerprints oneself to have them be usable.

3. If we get prints it will either be someone who lives there or the cop.  Seriously, of the three times in my 13 year career that I have seen literally dozens and dozens of scenes be processed for fingerprints, two of them came back to the printing officer.  Awesome.

So, yes, we still process for prints, but I am always sure to explain to the victim that the odds of us catching someone based on fingerprints are damn near nil.  Then I go on a rail about how shitty CSI (the TV show) is and how it has forever screwed cops for collecting evidence.  Not to mention the acting.  Oh dear God, the acting.  They should be ashamed of themselves.  I certainly am.

Be honest.  Mind is blown, right?

Photo Credit for featured image: Esquire.com

Photo Credit for fingerprint image: Flickr and Tobyotter




Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

43 thoughts on “Horatio Caine is Full of Crap (Alt. Title: CSI is a TV show)

    • Worst cop shows ever. I’m including Cop Rock.

      I prescribe two episodes of SouthLAnd. You’ll feel better immediately.

      • OK, I’ll be looking up Southland on Netflix. In exchange you have to give up Grey’s Anatomy and House for a month. Instead, shadow a nurse in triage, and count how many times she refrains from saying “you dumbass.” A weekend night shift can be great entertainment, but look for the old cranky staff for best results.

        • Never been a Grey’s fan…but I love House. If I could get away with his attitude for a day…oh man….

          I do realize, however, that life in the hospital game is nothing like that show.

          • COPS is a great show to watch…a lot of times to learn what not to do. But I do enjoy it. It’s easy to Monday morning QB a cop’s decision sitting in one’s recliner.

          • I just find COPS the only true reality show on television. For me, I watch it because it can be really funny at times, eg the perp who insists he was not burglarizing a house even though he had 2 camera crews filming him climbing through the window to be shown later on national television. (AND HE SIGNED THE RELEASE FORM….) My fave episode is Ft. Worth officer Antonio Maldonado II who gets stopped by a druggie who wants her $20 back because she was buying crack but the lady gave her plaster instead. Then the dealer said that she does NOT sell drugs. She’s a prostitute. NICE!!! I still roll laughing at that one. *sigh*

            You are so lucky in one respect. You get to ditch these people after 20 minutes or so, but teachers keep getting them back day after day for 180 days. Lord save us.

      • Phew…I love SouthLAnd. I was afraid you were going to say that was a crappy cop show too. I am glad that you approve of it.

  1. CSI Miami? Of what you speak.

    I think i watched once until he said something deep, took the glasses off and the Who started playing. There are enough problems with fingerprints in controlled situations, crimes scenes might be hell.

  2. Oh alright. So this is an exception not the rule but your readers would find this fascinating

    http://archives.starbullet​in.com/1999/01/26/news/bri​efs.html If you scroll down to Police, Fire under the story of the attorney convicted of visa fraud you will see the short article entitled Fingerprints help nab burglary suspect, 19. He was busted by his fingerprints lifted off a banana tree leaf.

    The evidence specialist, Dana Shinozuka, got a commendation for his work from this.

    • broken link – here is the article

      Fingerprints help nab burglary suspect, 19

      A 19-year-old man was arrested yesterday after his fingerprints were found to match those at a burglary last year in Hawaii Kai, police said.
      On May 22, 1998, detectives recovered fingerprints from banana leaves that were used to remove louvers to get into a home, police said. Computers, televisions and a safe were stolen.

      The man was later identified through the police Automated Fingerprint Identification System, according to a detective’s report. He was arrested yesterday by East Honolulu District’s crime reduction officers.

  3. The cop who came out when my iPod was stolen out of my car took prints. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but he offered so I figured, what the hel. We found gloves by the front porch, even. Some a-hole apparently roams the neighborhood at night checking if our cars are locked, because this was literally the first night I forgot to lock that car since we had bought it. I have an iPhone now, though, so I WIN!

  4. In my tenure I fingerprinted so many burglaries and many robberies that I knew were useless from the jump, because I could see smudges, or latex ‘dimples’ to say yep they were wearing gloves too. And the crooks are also smart enough to not toss their 20 cent pair of latex gloves in your trash (like I do when I’m done getting the dust all over myself).

    ONE TIME in 8 years i got a return- and honestly we had our own lab and three examiners, so they looked at A LOT. The reason I got the return was because I watched the video at the Subway he robbed and ordered a sandwich- tapping the glass pointing to his veggies he wanted. I also got a super palm impression where he braced himself to leap behind the counter off of the glass sneeze guard.

    But yes, for every one of those over a simple misdemeanor vandalism, no I’m not fingerprinting your rock.

    As an addendum, the reason we will not fingerprint your car where your GPS and iPod were stolen because you were dumb enough to leave em displayed in broad daylight, (then you act shocked when you became a victim) is because in a parking lot any finger prints coming off the car surfaces (handle etc) would never be charged because every defense atty can say “my client simply brushed against the car, they never stole anything” and the jury IS dumb enough to buy it.. so therefore there will never be any case to charge,

    Great post, but also a good example of what the courts go up against. If anyone knows a prosecutor/DA friend or neighbor, ask them about what the “CSI Effect” has on their jobs and watch the frustration ooze.

  5. Hi MC – I agree, the CSI effect is devastating to the justice system. The general public lacks critical thinking skills as it is, and this just makes it worse.

    Can you help me understand this sentence? “…of the three times in my 13 year career that I have seen literally dozens and dozens of scenes be processed for fingerprints, two of them came back to the printing officer.” I’m not getting how you have seen dozens of scenes processed only three times in your 13 year career. Do you mean that only three out of those dozens came back with usable prints, two of which were identified as those of the printing officer? Thanks!

  6. Hah……
    So the crime scene techs at the MCPD don’t all look like models, wear skin tight low cut tops, and work scenes in five inch stiletto heels?

    And what’s with the weird lighting at EVERY scene and in the labs? Really? You can’t ever flip on a light switch? Is it written in the Sooper Sekret CSI Book ‘o’ Factoids that proper lighting will get evidence thrown out or something?

    On the other hand…….
    I got called for jury duty a few years ago and since I’d never even had to show up before decided what the heck and didn’t try to get excused. Four co-defendants up for possession with intent to distribute and violation of the state’s drug tax-stamp act. (The tax-stamp bit made us chuckle. Had to wonder if said stamps even exist.) Anyway…. The only part of the whole process that was anything like what the TV shows was the chick from the state crime lab. She was absolutely smoking hot and was free with the geek speak.


    • Back about 30 years ago, Connecticut passed a “marijuana tax stamp” law. As I recall, the tax stamp cost something like $300. To the best of my knowledge, the only ones that were ever sold went to cops who bought them as a joke (which they were: the first case tried under the law got thrown when the defense attorney pointed out that buying the stamp would incriminate his client). I still have mine somewhere, along with a stock certificate for one share of the one of the legal brothels in Nevada (a bunch of us bought shares so we could list “prostitution” as other income on our 1040s; for some reason, we all got audited annually from then on).

  7. What about satellites?

    When we were in San Francisco last month, our car got broken into and my wife’s purse was stolen.

    Can you hack into the satellites in space to see who did it and follow their getaway car to their secret lair?

    ‘Cause she wants her iPhone back.

  8. Technically, the process is called dactyloscopy, which is the science of studying and comparing fingerprints for identification purposes. Fingerprinting, as a verb, is the process of obtaining fingerprint samples or specimens. The minimum number for points of contact will vary by jurisdiction and, sometimes, the probative threshold. In some jurisdictions, for example, you need fewer points of contact for a warrant than you would need for evidence at trial. You are correct that with most crimes of property and premeditated offenses, the perpetrator(s) will be wearing gloves. It’s a much different story with homicide, however.

  9. I was told that each time a cop pull someone over, the officer would put their hand on the roof of the car. If something happens, they have more evidence since the cops fingerprint is on the car. If that true? If so, what about motorcyle, put their hand on the helmet?

      • No entirely true,

        While in the academy I was trained to touch the trunk of the car with my finger. This was for two reasons:

        1. Leave my fingerprint behind on the car (in-case an incident were to occur it could be later identified as one that I had had contact with)

        2. By pushing down on the truck I was able to ensure the trunk was closed because in the 1980’s purps were hiding in the trunk and popping out and taking officers by surprise

        Do the academies still teach this method?

        • I deem your comment ridiculous because A) you misspelled “perp” and B) you meant to use the word “perp”.

          Seriously, though, I can see the remote possibility that #1 would happen. Pretty sure the license plate would come in more handy there. #2 may have been true at one point, but a lot of vehicles have an interior trunk release that makes checking that the trunk is closed a moot point.

  10. When some crackhead stole the stereo out of our pickup, my mother was SHOCKED that I filed a report online. When I explained to her that the chances of them being able to catch the idiot were minute, she said “But they could come out and dust for fingerprints!” sigh

  11. How does the “CSI effect” spill over just outside of this subject?

    Do people (read-Joe Schmoe) contaminate the crime scene because they are “collecting evidence” like they saw on that tv show? If so, what are their reactions when they are told that they are contaminating everything?


    • People have a tendency to either a) clean up (which destroys evidence) or b) lead us around touching every last surface after being told repeatedly to not do that.

  12. So why isn’t the law enforcement community up in arms demanding the show be taken off the air? If it is an inaccurate portrayal of what you do why aren’t you screaming for all the inaccurate cop shows to be taken off TV?

    Oh, is that just medics that get pissed about that?

    BTW there is yet another “I remember something from the scene you missed” cop show coming out. Please, oh please make it stop.

    • Listen, whiny McWhinersen…people love you in real life. They hate us in real life. Our TV shows (for the most part) kick ass. Yours suck. Seems like you win in this trade-off…so shut it.

      • I thought Rescue Me was a pretty kickass show !

        Unfortunately, my computer blew back in late May, (is now up and running again) so I ended up watching some TV for a couple months.

        I cannot stand “All worked up” , “south beach tow”, etc. so much drama ! I think its all scripted.

        However, I did find “Locked Up” and “Jail” really fascinating and educational.

        Know of any blogs by officers that work on that side of the door

        • Although she hasn’t posted for quite a while (since January), “Bitter Blonde” at PublicSafetyParody (at) Blogspot (dot) com is on the corrections side of the house. Some very good articles.

  13. Hey MC
    I won’t say your mind is blown…not after you threw in a Beverly Hills Cop reference!!!

    How do you like Police POV (its like COPS plus helmet cams)

    ….and another poster mentioned something about officers touching part of the car before making contact with the driver, I can say that is true….but its not the roof…its the trunk. They do it to make sure its shut and no one will pop out, not necessarily to put prints on the car.

  14. Greatest line ever from Law & Order, when the writers took a shot at CSI. After one of the evidence techs made some wildly stupid supposition about a potential suspect, Lenny Briscoe said “Geez, All of those CSI guys think they’re cops.” (RIP, Jerry Orbach)

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