Monday, January 22, 2007

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Occasionally during an investigation, it becomes necessary to find a needle in a haystack. Other times you may be required to find a toothpick in a stack of needles. If I'm not making any sense, climb aboard the band wagon and allow me to explain.

There are times when you have to sift through a large amount of dirt or debris in order to find small articles of evidence like shell casings, projectiles, or even teeth. I use a homemade screen made out of 2x4s and wire mesh. It's big enough to require two people (one on each end) to shake it back and forth until all of the debris falls through and I'm left to manually sort through the remainder to find what I'm looking for. It's not so bad when dealing with dirt, but it can be a pain in the neck when dealing with fire debris.

The problem with fire debris is that it almost always has a large amount of fiberglass insulation and it's always wet from the fire hoses. When you try to shake it through a sifter, the fiberglass makes the debris clump up into balls that won't go through the screen. If you try to use your hands to rub the debris through the screen, you'll shred your hands on all of the broken glass and wire and other sharp little nasties.

I found a solution that solves this problem. More water. Prop up at least one end of the sifter with whatever you can find. Place the debris into the sifter and use a garden hose to wash the debris through the screen. Not only does it remove all of the debris that will fit through the mesh, but it also cleans off everything that's left making evidence much more visible. It works well with fire debris, but works incredibly well with dirt.

The next time you need to sift through a large amount of dirt or debris and happen to have access to a water source, give this a try. You'll be surprised by how well this technique can work.