Watch now: Central Illinois attorneys, police deliver juries again to actuality to fight ‘the CSI Impact’ | Native Crime & Courts

Watch now: Central Illinois attorneys, police bring juries back to reality to combat 'the CSI Effect' | Local Crime & Courts

Daniel Moore, geographic information system aThe application engineer for Normal is assembling the city’s drone, which is now being used by the police. Crime shows like “CSI” have given the public misconceptions about the speed of the investigation, experts said.


Chad Bock, evidence technician for the normal police department, said high-tech devices like the department’s laser measuring device could help officers better gather evidence, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

BLOOMINGTON – Actors ducking under the crime scene tape and blinking at new evidence have drawn large audiences for decades, but the fantasy worlds of television crime and cop drama create unrealistic expectations that neither lawyers nor law enforcement agencies can live up to.

The “CSI effect,” as it became known in the legal world, “blurs fiction and reality,” said Brad Rigdon, McLean County’s first prosecutor. “It’s science fiction versus real life, where we try to draw the line between what is real and what is not.”

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and all of the spin-offs in its franchise have been off the air for years, but Rigdon says the name has stayed. As he prepares to interview potential jurors, that’s all he needs to write down to remember.

During these conversations – known to lawyers and judges as “voir dire” – potential jurors often hear something like, “They understand this is all fiction, right? And you don’t expect satellite images and laser grid analysis to be presented as evidence? “

“The problem is they are being honest about a question that is abstract and hypothetical,” said Rigdon, who heads the crime department at the Law and Justice Center. “You only hear the charges – we don’t tell you any evidence; We don’t tell them anything about what happened. … They’ll probably say no and I think that’s honest. “

However, once they hear evidence, judges’ expectations may change.

“There’s a chance they’ll be fingerprinting the wheel well of a burning car at ‘CSI’ – which is actually an episode I’ve seen,” Rigdon said.


Chad Bock, evidence technician for the regular police department, is shown holding a device that uses lasers to take measurements.


Television was a source of misunderstanding about the police and the criminal justice system for a long time, until the days when Perry Mason dramatically defended the falsely accused. The trend continued throughout the era of Judicial Television and Law & Order to countless “Dateline NBC” and “Forensic Files” episodes relating to crimes cleared up at the time the loan was granted.

The result? Eastern Michigan University researchers who examined the impact of these shows on juries found that 46% of all criminal investigations expected scientific evidence – and 74% of murder cases.

“It’s Hollywood”


Ordinary police tech officer Jason Wood speaks at the department last week.

DAVID PROEBER, The Pantagraph

Rick Bleichner, chief of police for the regular police force, said he saw these shows use trajectory mapping after a firearm was unloaded to pinpoint exactly where the shooter was from a distance – something like that makes law enforcement say, “Wow, that is it’s good television. “

“But it’s not factual, it just isn’t. It’s Hollywood, ”he said, noting that trajectory mapping is possible, but it just wasn’t realistic.

However, sometimes money is a bigger factor than technology.

COVID-19 aborts shootouts; Bloomington-Normal police are focused on removing illegal weapons

According to Rigdon, prosecutors need to determine whether the jury understands, “What you saw (on TV) is a science that would require police to budget $ 5 million to $ 10 million for every case they ever investigate. “

Police chiefs must weigh the cost and maintenance of equipment that could be used for investigations against the frequency with which it is realistically used. Often they choose to be interdependent and share resources with other authorities where possible.

When the best is available, the evidence gleaned from advanced technology sometimes fails to make it to court because it hasn’t been reviewed, too new, “to CSI,” as a judge told a McLean County prosecutor.

Rigdon said it was a fine line to go.

“Transparency is key” to the public safety cameras in Bloomington, police said.

Support local journalism

Your membership enables our reporting.


Chad Bock, an evidence technician for the regular police force, saw the usefulness of advanced technology in an investigation, but said, “We still use a lot of good police work,” like pulling out the fingerprint powder and a brush.

And these ancient methods can be more easily presented in court when lawyers and their experts have to “teach the lowest level of the 12 people to make sure they fully understand everything you tell them,” said Jack McQueen, supervisor of the Criminal Investigation Department. and intelligence analysis by the Bloomington Police Department.

McQueen said the department is not afraid to try something new, which will only add to the checklist of evidence to look for in an investigation.

For example, the case against Kirk Zimmerman, who was acquitted in May 2019 for the murder of his ex-wife, opened Bloomington police to possible evidence from vehicle telematics analyzing technical data in vehicles that are being run with multimedia systems navigation software etc. and historical cell location analysis, which tracks the interactions between mobile phone and tower.

The case of Kyle Brestan, convicted of the murder of his friend Shannon Hastings in December 2019, drew attention to cameras installed on the outside of Connect Transit buses, one of which captured a picture of Brestan, the one with red spots from the crime scene pulled away on his pants.

“Now I had 100 points on my checklist for (a murder). Now I have 101 points because bus videos will definitely be included in the future, ”said McQueen.

“Follow the Facts”

Between advancing technologies making investigations difficult, the volume of digital or cyber evidence being processed, and the sharing of forensic devices, law enforcement agencies face citizens who expect an impossible timeline.


The normal police chief Rick Bleichner speaks on TV shows like “CSI”.


“Citizens believe that in every scene you will find fingerprints, DNA, all of the evidence that a suspect needs to be identified and prosecuted successfully, and that you can do it in 30 minutes or less.” Said Bock. “It’s just not as easy as the television makes it appear.”

Despite the effect, Bleichner said their process would not change. Detectives don’t try to emulate actors, they just work to find the best possible case.

“Our goal is to collect the evidence and follow the facts wherever the evidence leads us,” he said.

But the “CSI” effect could have some courtroom benefits as a motivator, Rigdon said.

“How can we use technology effectively and appropriately – what can we do? We don’t see it as OK, the jury will count on it … but we look at it and say, “What can we do with it, what does that actually mean?” He said.


Prosecutor Brad Rigdon speaks to a jury in December. The “CSI effect” is “blurring fiction and reality,” he said.


The other side effect: TV shows are credited with increasing the number of students interested in the subject. The Accreditation Commission for Forensic Education Programs awarded its seal of approval to 49 programs five more than five years ago.

The pursuit of more data-based evidence is attractive to attorneys too, as the objective nature of the data can result in a convincing case.

“Data is data. The ones and zeros are what they are, ”Rigdon said. “It’s a lot different from… testimony that will be based on your perceptions, your memory. The dates speak for themselves and the dates don’t change often. “

Real life is always a few steps behind what the audience sees on TV: “But you can look around and see that technology is advancing very quickly right now. So the gap isn’t always as big as it was in 2005, when there weren’t any smartphones, but the CSI world, ”Rigdon said.

Good, bad and everything in between, said the prosecutor, there is no turning back.

“It’s hard to imagine a world that didn’t exist.”

Photos: New technologies support police investigations

Contact Kelsey Watznauer at (309) 820-3254. Follow her on Twitter: @kwatznauer.