They can’t really get DNA results in a few hours, and the guys who gather the evidence don’t actually test it in the lab. But crime scene investigators really do have a national database of fingerprints and DNA profiles.
To separate more of the fact from fiction when it comes to crime scene investigations, the public is invited to meet the director of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab, Irma Rios, at 5 p.m. on Thursday in the Multipurpose Room of the University of Houston-Victoria’s University Center building, 3007 N. Ben Wilson.
Her visit is part of Café Scientifique Victoria, an ongoing series of open discussions during which the public is encouraged to participate as a way of making science more open to the masses. Affiliated gatherings are held in London, Paris and Boston, among other cities. The Victoria branch was started as a cooperative effort between UHV and The Victoria College science faculty.
Also joining in the discussion will be Victoria defense attorney Elliott Costas, who will talk about how the defense views the work done by Rios and her associates. Costas has practiced criminal law for 26 years.
So what is it really like to work in a crime lab?
“It’s a lot more fun than what you see on TV,” Rios said. “It’s dealing with individuals’ lives, and you get a lot of satisfaction with solving a case.”
On any given day, Rios and her staff may be called upon to identify narcotics from a drug bust or fluids from the scene of a murder. Her staff also works to match bullets from a crime scene to a particular gun and finds out exactly how many drinks that DWI suspect really had.
Modern crime shows have given the public a better idea of how things work in her world, but there are still a number of misconceptions, Rios said, many of them coming from DNA testing.
“They think that the results can be obtained right away in 30 minutes,” she said. “It takes days for the testing to be conducted.”
The lab also doesn’t perform exhaustive tests on every piece of evidence recovered, she said. Once criminalists can place a suspect at a scene with one piece of evidence, it is a waste of time to perform many other tests to establish the same fact.
Rios’ trip to Victoria will include a guest lecture in the Forensic Biology graduate class taught by Richard Gunasekera, who leads the UHV Forensic Science program.
“This is a wonderful chance for the public to see into the real world of forensics,” Gunasekera said. “Everyone is invited to stay around for the class lecture, if they wish.”
The visit will be a special thrill for his students, he said, who first met Rios on a field trip last month to the Houston crime lab.
“These graduate students and other interested students will really benefit from getting to speak with someone who spends every day doing what they are training to do,” Gunasekera said.
Past guest lecturers have included Victoria Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor, law makers and defense attorneys. The class is the flagship course in the Forensic Science graduate program.
The events on Thursday are free to the public, and light refreshments will be served.
To RSVP or for more information, contact Christy Edwards at (361) 570-4216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.