way to handle clue or evidence is to have planned for discovery and
processing. The place to do this is at the briefing.
At most organized
SAR incidents, before starting their assignment, SAR workers going to the field
will be briefed by a member of the incident management team. That is,
the information will be conveyed to the field workers concerning such things
as situation status, subject information, terrain in the search area, hazards
to expect, and much more. Much information will be conveyed at a proper
briefing, but specific instructions regarding how to handle and act on clues
can be the most important briefing information to the tracker.
evidence can take so many forms, instructions on how to handle it should cover
all the possibilities, leaving very little to chance. Handling of clues
and evidence can be the single most important part of the investigation of an
incident, and therefore, may weigh heavily on the outcome. Trackers are
often confronted with situations not common to many other field
personal. Therefore, trackers need to ask all the standard questions at
a briefing with certain tracking-specific additions. If not told, trackers
should request answers to the following questions regarding the handling of
how should the evidence be recorded? Sketched? Photographed? Narrative description
in writing? All the above?
how, if at all, should a print be protected? Cordoned off? Covered?
Plaster cast? Guarded? Should someone else be called in to handle this?
I act upon my interpretation of specific piece of evidence, or should I
report my findings and wait for further instructions? To what extent can I
act on what is found?
should I do, as a tracker, if I am confronted with two trails? Should I
act as I see fit, or should I report and wait for instructions? Is
splitting up the tracking team a viable alternative?
often, experienced racking teams will tell the person briefing them how they
will handle such situations. This may be the best coarse of action,
especially if those charged with managing the incident are not familiar with
tracking and trackers.
evidence can be categorized as either "physical" or
"incorporeal." "Physical" evidence is something that
can be touched and retrieved. Tangible objects such as shoes or gum
wrappers are examples. "Incorporeal" evidence, on the other
hand, is non-physical information or knowledge - Intangible items that cannot
be touched or held. Examples might include the subjects age, a whistle
blowing, a flashing light, or a report from a witness. The effectiveness
of this type of evidence ultimately depends on well it is recorded. In
fact, it is usually converted to physical evidence by field personnel.
Drawings of print, photographs of an event, and written records of went on
were once all intangibles turned into hard, presentable evidence by the
evidence is far more desirable in the long run, because it is easier to
preserve for later presentation. Intangible evidence can be important,
but it's just not the persuasive because its credibility rests solely on how
well it is recorded. After all, which would you find more credible: a
fisherman with a tale of the big one that got away or a fisherman with a
photograph of it? Physical evidence is always preferred.
the recording and documentation of a clue and its surroundings should be of
such quality that the entire scene can be re-enacted or reproduced
later. The scene should be recorded so well that what went on before,
during, and after the discovery of a particular piece of evidence can be accurately
recounted. This can be difficult when evidence is intangible and
difficult to preserve. In such cases, the recording of an event (i.e.,
photographs, notes, sketches, etc.) becomes the physical evidence. The
better the record, the better the evidence.
actions taken by the tracker can help turn intangible clue into physical
Notes - Record the placement of clues, position of people or bodies, and
pertinent facts surrounding the scene. Leave nothing to the
imagination, but do not expound. Stick to the facts and be able to
corroborate them, if possible. Basically, describe in prose
everything that you know regarding the scene and the situation.
Sketch the Scene - Draw diagrams and pictures of pertinent objects
involved at the scene and their position relative
to each other. Not everyone is an artist, but a simple line drawings
can be invaluable.
- Take photographs, if possible. This is an excellent way to
document a scene, but relies heavily on light and equipment
availability. Be certain to include something in the photograph that
will indicate scale, time, and date,
if possible. Attempt to get at least three sides (3 photographs) of any
and Preserve - Collect clues, if within the scope of the briefing.
Evidence and clues should be the focus of all sketches, photographs, and
documentation, but retrieving the and preserving the evidence itself is
the ultimate objective. Be mindful of the fact that notes, sketches,
and photographs may themselves become evidence.
tracking, evidence usually takes the form of a print or sign that, of coarse,
cannot be directly retrieved. In addition, this type of evidence is usually
time sensitive. That is, because it tends to disappear with time, the
sooner this type of evidence is discovered and recorded, the more valuable it
is to the investigation. Tracks, like ice cream with children, tend to
disappear quickly. this means that photographs, sketches, and other
documentation will usually need to be generated immediately upon discovery of
such evidence. To maximize its usefulness, the tracker will need to
record a print right away.
should not be allowed out of your possession or protection until it can be
conveyed to an equally responsible person. When evidence is considered
for use in a legal case, opportunities for alteration of the evidence, by
nature or man-made causes, can reduce credibility. That is, the greater
the chances that a piece of evidence could have been changed or altered, the
less its significance, particularly in court. This responsibility is
referred to as maintaining the "chain of evidence," and may
weigh heavily on a clues' acceptability in court. To comply with the
chain of evidence rules, the evidence must always be in custody of an
identifiable person who can testify that he or she received it in a given
condition from someone else or from the scene; that the item was was kept
safely from any possible tampering or contamination; and that the item was
delivered in the same condition to another named person. This
"chain" is probably
more important to law enforcement personnel than to trackers, but the need for
an understanding and appreciation of its purpose should be obvious to anyone
involved with what could become issues before a court.
emergency medical treatment, an injury is treated for its worst possible
condition, just to be safe. Likewise, any SAR scene where evidence is
found and collected should be considered the scene of a crime until proven
otherwise. This approach allows us to consider everything evidence until
we know to the contrary, thereby protecting every possibility.
primary categories of situations may be encountered by a SAR worker.
These categories have been listed in order of general severity, but not
Scene - Usually a vehicle, occasionally an aircraft, often injury and
death, always involves important evidence.
Body (bodies) - May involve any number of situations that can cause harm
to an individual or group. Often involves injured subjects, and
always involves important clues.
- Same scenarios where deaths may be encountered. May also involve
- Clues clues are discovered and must be processed.
anyone of these situations, a SAR worker may be confronted with evidence that
may be critical to the efficient resolution of a SAR situation. Usually, for a
tracker, this includes sign, or evidence of a subject passing through, and
thus falls into the fourth category outlined above. However, ay type of
evidence may be discovered, and must all be handled properly.
scenes may include injury or death, but almost always involve evidence.
Often the only way to find out exactly what happened is to piece together the
clues. How these clues are handled and processed initially may mean the
difference between knowing what occurred and guessing.
crash scene, there are many things that responders, including trackers, can do
to help victims of the incident as well as to assist the subsequent
investigation. By the same token, there are actions that could hamper an
investigation, further complicate the victims situation, and even result in
personal injury to the emergency worker. Trackers must understand their
place at this type of situation.
most common crashes in the world involve automobiles and trucks. When
this type of incident occurs, local law enforcement, fire service, and
emergency medical services (EMS) are often involved. One of theses
agencies usually has responsibility for the scene. Since trackers may be
members of any of these agencies, they should have basic knowledge of their
role in a crash scenario. In a vehicle accident, trackers can be used effectively
by EMS, police, and fire fighters. Imagine a situation where an injured
person walks away from a serious accident, or where someone is knocked down by
a hit and run driver. Tracking can be of value in these situations and
can only enhance the effectiveness of any emergency responder.
situations involving remote sites, SAR personnel may be asked to assist investigators
in just getting to the site. In these cases, pointing out observations
and subtle clues not readily apparent to the investigator could be
helpful. At sites that would be inaccessible to all but trained SAR
personal, team members could be asked to conduct the entire on-scene
wreckage must be disturbed to remove bodies, the county coroner or medical
examiner will need to cooperate with he responsible agency. Should the
investigator be unavailable, then some other agencies, authorized to do
so by the coroner, can instruct the removal of the bodies. Any
activity concerning dead bodies must adhere to strict guideline set down by
the authority with jurisdiction over the situation.
for Handling Crash Scenes:
with caution! Safety of SAR personal is paramount. If the smell of fuel is
strong, approach from uphill and upwind.
a. With the presence of any fuel in the area, extreme caution should
be used during any activities.
Absolutely NO SMOKING or use of fire or spark producing devices.
b. It is imperative to assure the safety of all personnel.
Do whatever is necessary to see that everyone is prudently safe, and this
may include leaving the scene altogether.
further injury to the victim or victims by stabilizing the scene.
This usually involves minimizing hazards and should not be neglected.
whether any subjects are alive or dead. If alive, begin emergency
care to the best of your ability and training. If dead, secure the
scene and notify a higher authority.
a perimeter security for the site, but remember SAR personnel, including
trackers, usually have no legal authority to perform law enforcement functions
and may not be able to prevent people from accessing the scene.
any evidence such as baggage, personal effects, cargo, mails, tracks,
etc., as determined in the briefing. If no such determinations have
been made, protect and leave any evidence unless it is in danger of
obliteration or alteration by weather or environmental hazards.
photograph, and/or sketch all pertinent evidence, especially if
investigators will rely heavily on your observations (i.e., if they cannot
access the scene, or if the evidence will be effected by weather or time)
the Deceased at a SAR Scene
discovery and investigation of serious injuries and accidental death can be
one of the least enjoyable, but most important, aspects of SAR and law
enforcement. As with most investigative cases, someone is stuck with the
task of collecting clues, finding cause, and explaining a set of
circumstances. The detailed study of the event and evidence of a
situation is the legal responsibility of trained public officials such as
coroners, medical examiners, or law enforcement officers, depending on nature
and location of the mishap. Frequently, however, evidence is produced or
discovered by trackers who are obligated to help the responsible authorities
as best the can.
times and circumstances or facts that lead up to a death may seem rather
obvious, SAR workers should understand that there are certain requirements and
obligations, both to the state and to family or friends. The inquiry
process varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from state to state, but
basic guidelines that apply to SAR team members have been established.
first responsibility of someone arriving on the scene is to determine if the
subject is dead, alive, or critically injured. If this means moving or
touching the individual, then go ahead and do whatever is necessary.
Proper emergency care supersedes investigation at this point, and medical
treatment is never interrupted; evidence considerations take secondary
priority. When a victim is pronounced dead by what ever rules are
generally accepted, and medical treatment is deemed unnecessary, then should
every effort be directed to preserve the surroundings. The same care is extended
to preserve the exact position of the deceased and any associated evidence.
the scene and look for clues, evidence, or indications of what might have
happened. If anything in the way of tracks, imprints, scuff marks or
possessions are in danger of being lost, preserve the information or scene
description by documenting it. Whichever approach to evidence handling
is followed, it should coincide with the guide lines set forth in the
close scrutiny of the area or evidence is required, the first to approach
should be an experienced sign cutter who designates a "safe pathway"
for future travel through the area. This may be done by marking the
boundaries of the "safe pathway" with tape or simply dragging a
tracking stick on the ground. All future entrants into the area, then,
must be schooled as to how they should approach. Any sign or evidence
discovered by individual cutting sign should be immediately noted and marked
area immediately surrounding the body or bodies should be secured with rope,
string, or tape after the suspect(s) is (are) determined to be dead.
This physical barrier insures not only that officials do not walk in and out
of the area, but should also keep curious onlookers out. Again, pay particular
attention to any item with in the cordoned area. In documenting whatever
was observed, make sure plenty of emphasis is placed on disturbances or
movement made within the scene by SAR workers, intentional or otherwise.
Failure to do this could result in the suspect of acting beyond ones
authority, or even of destroying evidence. If at all possible, remain at
the scene until official help arrives, even if alone. This could involve
sending a passerby or another team member for help, if a radio is
unavailable. Remember the "Chain of Evidence." Finding a
clue and then abandoning it, for any length of time, could mean the difference
between acceptance or refusal of certain evidence in court.
or someone on your team, may be required to make a written statement.
This must be as accurate and detail as possible and involve only the facts.
not conjecture. Ask for advise of a knowledgeable person when
considering what to include in an official statement. The counsel of an
attorney may be prudent.
specific instructions have been given to do so, do not search a deceased
person for identification. Tat is an official function, and must be
carried out by responsible authorities. Depending on the the state and
local jurisdiction, a body may only be moved or pronounced dead by a coroner, deputy
coroner, or medical examiner. Essentially, one of these people is in
total command of the site. Often, however, SAR personal are called upon
to assist in investigation under specific direction of on of these officials.
try to have a witness to any activity you are involved with around the scene
of death. Everyone becomes a suspect when the ultimate tragedy becomes
reality and a human dies. Nothing is sacred and everything is
possible. Most importantly: be mindful of our own interests, have a
reason for all that you do, and document everything well.
Injuries at a SAR Scene
for handling injuries are similar to those handling deaths. Protecting
evidence is important, but falls second to proper emergency care.
Treatment of injuries and alleviation of pain is a major goal in each
emergency response, and should not be precluded by collection of
evidence. However, when the treatment is complete, the entire
investigation will still hinge on any clues, observations, and recollections
of those involved. Therefore, be mindful of such considerations while
treating the victim in any situation, and try to protect evidence while doing
your best for the patient.
- Evidence Handling
summarize, handle any clues as if they were they were the only piece of
evidence, consider each and every discovery to be absolutely important until
proven otherwise, and follow these simple guidelines:
for the handling of evidence, including tracking-specific considerations,
in the briefing.
Do Not Wait till something is found.
an accurate record of the evidence and its environment by taking notes,
making sketches, photographing, or retrieving the evidence.
and maintain the "Chain of Evidence"
injuries or assist the injured first, but be mindful of any evidence,