A crime scene search is a planned, coordinated, and legal search by law enforcement officials to locate physical evidence.

Basic Premises

  • The best search options are typically the most difficult and time-consuming.
  • Physical evidence cannot be over-documented.
  • There is only one chance to search the scene properly.
  • There are two search approaches:
    1. Conduct a cautious search of visible areas, avoiding evidence loss or contamination
    2. After the cautious search, conduct a vigorous search of concealed areas


  • Obtain a search warrant, if necessary.
  • Discuss the search with involved personnel before arrival at the scene, if possible.
  • Establish a command headquarters for communication and decision making in major or complicated crime scene searches.
  • Ensure that personnel are aware of the types of evidence usually encountered and the proper handling of the evidence.
  • Make preliminary personnel assignments before arrival at the scene, if possible.
  • Ensure that assignments are in keeping with the attitude, aptitude, training, and experience of personnel. Personnel may be assigned two or more responsibilities.
  • Person In Charge
    • Scene security
    • Administrative log
    • Preliminary survey
    • Narrative description
    • Problem resolution
    • Final decision making
  • Photographer
    • Photography and log
  • Sketch Preparer
    • Sketch and log
  • Evidence Recorder
    • Evidence custodian and log
  • Establish communication between medical examiners, laboratory personnel, and prosecutive attorneys so that questions during the crime scene search can be resolved.
  • Coordinate agreements with all agencies in multijurisdictional crime scene searches.
  • Accumulate evidence collection and packaging materials and equipment.
  • Prepare the paperwork to document the search.
  • Provide protective clothing, communication, lighting, shelter, transportation, equipment, food, water, medical assistance, and security for personnel.
  • In prolonged searches, use shifts of two or more teams.
  • Transfer paperwork and responsibility in a preplanned manner from one team to the next.


  • Be alert for evidence.
  • Take extensive notes.
  • Consider the safety of all personnel.

Secure and Protect

  • Take control of the scene immediately.
  • Determine the extent to which the scene has been protected. Obtain information from personnel who have knowledge of the original condition.
  • Designate one person in charge for final decision making and problem resolution.
  • Continue to take extensive notes.
  • Keep out unauthorized personnel.
  • Record who enters and leaves.

Preliminary Survey

  • The survey is an organizational stage to plan for the search.
  • Cautiously walk through the scene.
  • Maintain administrative and emotional control.
  • Select a narrative technique such as written, audio, or video.
  • Take preliminary photographs.
  • Delineate the extent of the search area. Usually expand the initial perimeter.
  • Organize methods and procedures.
  • Recognize special problem areas.
  • Identify and protect transient physical evidence.
  • Determine personnel and equipment needs. Make specific assignments.
  • Develop a general theory of the crime.
  • Take extensive notes to document the scene, physical and environmental conditions, and personnel movements.

Evaluate Physical Evidence Possibilities

  • This evaluation begins upon arrival at the scene and becomes detailed in the preliminary survey stage.
  • Ensure that the collection and packaging materials and equipment are sufficient.
  • Focus first on evidence that could be lost. Leave the least transient evidence last.
  • Ensure all personnel consider the variety of possible evidence, not only evidence within their specialties.
  • Search the easily accessible areas and progress to out-of-view locations. Look for hidden items.
  • Evaluate whether evidence appears to have been moved inadvertently.
  • Evaluate if the scene appears contrived.


  • The narrative is a running description of the crime scene.
  • Use a systematic approach in the narrative.
  • Nothing is insignificant to record if it catches one's attention.
  • Under most circumstances, do not collect evidence during the narrative.
  • Use photographs and sketches to supplement, not substitute for, the narrative.
  • The narrative should include
    • Case identifier
    • Date, time, and location
    • Weather and lighting conditions
    • Identity and assignments of personnel
    • Condition and position of evidence


  • Photograph the crime scene as soon as possible.
  • Prepare a photographic log that records all photographs and a description and location of evidence.
  • Establish a progression of overall, medium, and close-up views of the crime scene.
  • Photograph from eye level to represent the normal view.
  • Photograph the most fragile areas of the crime scene first.
  • Photograph all stages of the crime scene investigation, including discoveries.
  • Photograph the condition of evidence before recovery.
  • Photograph the evidence in detail and include a scale, the photographer's initials, and the date.
  • When a scale is used, first take a photograph without the scale.
  • Photograph the interior crime scene in an overall and overlapping series using a wide-angle lens.
  • Photograph the exterior crime scene, establishing the location of the scene by a series of overall photographs including a landmark. Photographs should have 360 of coverage. Consider using aerial photography.
  • Photograph entrances and exits.
  • Photograph important evidence twice.
  • A medium-distance photograph that shows the evidence and its position to other evidence.
  • A close-up photograph that includes a scale and fills the frame.
  • Acquire prior photographs, blueprints, or maps of the scene.


  • The sketch establishes a permanent record of items, conditions, and distance and size relationships.
  • Sketches supplement photographs.
  • Sketch number designations should coordinate with the evidence log number designations.
  • Sketches are normally not drawn to scale. However, the sketch should have measurements and details for a drawn-to-scale diagram, if necessary.
  • The sketch should include
    • Case identifier;
    • Date, time, and location;
    • Weather and lighting conditions;
    • Identity and assignments of personnel;
    • Dimensions of rooms, furniture, doors, and windows;
    • Distances between objects, persons, bodies, entrances, and exits;
    • Measurements showing the location of evidence. Each object should be located by two measurements from non-movable items such as doors or walls; and
    • Key, legend, compass orientation, scale, scale disclaimer, or a combination of these features.

Crime Scene Search, Record, and Physical Evidence Collection

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  • Use a search pattern such as a grid, strip or lane, or spiral.
  • Search from the general to the specific for evidence.
  • Be alert for all evidence.
  • Search entrances and exits.
  • Photograph all items before collection and notate the photographic log.
  • Mark evidence locations on the sketch.
  • Complete the evidence log with notations for each item of evidence. If feasible, have one person serve as evidence custodian.
  • Two persons should observe evidence in place, during recovery, and being marked for identification. If feasible, mark directly on the evidence.
  • Wear gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints.
  • Do not excessively handle the evidence after recovery.
  • Seal all evidence packages at the crime scene.
  • Obtain known standards such as fiber samples from a known carpet.
  • Make a complete evaluation of the crime scene.
  • Constantly check paperwork, packaging, and other information for errors.

Final Survey

  • The final survey is a review of all aspects of the search.
  • Discuss the search with all personnel.
  • Ensure all documentation is correct and complete.
  • Photograph the scene showing the final condition.
  • Ensure all evidence is secured.
  • Ensure all equipment is retrieved.
  • Ensure hiding places or difficult access areas have not been overlooked.


  • Release the crime scene after the final survey.
  • Crime scene release documentation should include the time and date of release, to whom released, and by whom released.
  • Ensure that the evidence is collected according to legal requirements, documented, and marked for identification.
  • Consider the need for specialists such as a blood-pattern analyst or a medical examiner to observe the scene before it is released.
  • Once the scene has been released, reentry may require a warrant.
  • The scene should be released only when all personnel are satisfied that the scene was searched correctly and completely.
  • Only the person in charge should release the scene.