‘Solving crimes is a huge reward’
Law enforcement officers at the Alexandria Police Department (APD) have their hands full. Day to day, they handle all kinds of crime, from assaults to burglaries to traffic accidents.
However, when there are more large-scale cases, such as armed robbery or criminal/sexual conduct, the officers call in detectives.
For Detective Jay Halverson of the APD, whenever his skills are needed, he prefers to be at the scene in person, to be called out no matter the time.
“I like to get out and feel it, smell it, be in the area where a crime occurred,” he said.
From the time he arrives to case closed, he follows through, guided by a set procedure.
BREAKING DOWN A SCENE
When detectives arrive, first responders, such as uniformed officers, medical personnel or other emergency services, have often already secured the scene.
Detectives are able to take what Halverson calls a preliminary survey, beginning with safety. “My first thought…is to secure and protect that scene, meaning are there any more threats to the public, to my coworkers, to myself?”
Threats could be anything from fire, explosives or blood-borne diseases. If medical attention is needed, it will be provided immediately.
Uniformed officers who are on the scene stay and assist. They’re essential, Halverson said, whether in collecting evidence, securing a scene, preventing crime scene infringement, conducting field interviews on scene, and more.
Halverson will then take detailed interviews from key witnesses and victims if they’re able to do so. However, because of scene security, it is ideal for the interviewees to be questioned at the police department.
Once on the scene, officers conduct a detailed search for physical evidence, such as DNA, hair, blood, weapons and more.
Halverson noted that officers create sketches of the scene, which offer a personal take on the scenario. They also record the scene inside and out through thorough notes, photographs or video.
After evidence has been collected and the scene has been documented, the officers can release the property back to the owners.
“Before leaving…I would do a final walkthrough just to make sure I didn’t miss anything,” Halverson said. He stressed that a detective should not be rushed during this final step.
Of how long officers spend at a scene, Halverson said, “On a homicide, it can literally be a day and a half, two days, more. And then on a smaller scale, we might be there for a couple of hours.”
With the scene wrapped up, other work begins.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
All evidence collected must be secured and packaged at the police department, which has the ability to, for instance, fume for fingerprints, but any scientific or chemical testing is done at a laboratory in St. Paul or Bemidji.
Unlike fictionalized TV shows where the good guys are supplied with a name, face and information about the criminal in mere seconds, precise police work takes time.
“We can’t put a fingerprint into a computer and have a face and a name pop up in an instant. It doesn’t work that way,” Halverson explained. “As a rule, that’s going to take a minimum of [a couple] weeks for us to get that information. If it was within two weeks, that would be fast.”
Fortunately, cases are prioritized so the ones requiring urgent attention are handled as quickly as the labs can accommodate.
In the case of major crime such as homicide, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) labs become involved and supply crime scene specialists as well as assistance from the state.
The documentation of evidence is among the paperwork stage of a case. Investigative reports are also included.
“I commonly write a three to five page narrative just to start with what I’ve seen initially,” Halverson said. “Then there would be supplemental reports for each interview or follow-up investigation I do after that until that case is closed.”
Work on the police department’s end comes to a close once a suspect has confessed or as soon as officers have compiled enough evidence to make a solid case.
But when one case wraps up, Halverson’s work isn’t done.
“At any one time, there can be easily a dozen cases,” Halverson said. “When I say that, I mean 12 to 15. That’s day to day.”
THOSE WHO SERVE
According to Halverson, the differences between the duties of detectives and uniformed officers at a scene are that officers can be called away to other scenes if needed, while detectives are devoted solely to the current scene.
All detectives at the APD have basic police training and were assigned as detectives based on experience.
Though the number of detectives on duty has fluctuated at times, there are typically three, one specializing in narcotics or drug activity and two as general crime detectives.
Halverson started as a uniformed officer at the APD in 1996. He worked about 10 years, covering everything from narcotics to general investigation, before being assigned as a detective.
“I was the kind of guy that from about the age of 12 just knew I wanted to be a cop,” Halverson said. “My goal in that was just number one to be a police officer. Then my goal in that was to do undercover and detective work.
“I enjoy being able to solve crimes by working with people,” he continued. “Just solving these crimes that come up is a huge reward to me and to see that there is some relief to the public and the victims.”