7-3 Crime Scene Evidence Collection and Preservation

Policy Type: Local

Responsible Office: Chief of Police, Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department

Initial Policy Approved: 5/30/2014

Current Revision Approved: 5/30/2014



Collection, proper documentation, preservation, and submission of physical evidence to forensic laboratories may provide key ingredients of any investigation. A crime scene processor from Richmond Police Department is available to Virginia Commonwealth University Police Department on a 24-hour basis. Through evidence located at the scene, suspects are developed or eliminated, investigative leads are established, and theories concerning the crime are substantiated or disapproved. The officer or investigator shall be prepared to collect, identify, and package the evidence, so that it will not be changed in form and value when it reaches the laboratory, and to maintain a chain of custody of that evidence in order to ensure that it is presented to the court professionally and in compliance with the law.


Accountability Statement

All employees are expected to fully comply with the guidelines and timelines set forth in this written directive. Failure to comply will result in appropriate corrective action. Responsibility rests with the division commander to ensure that any policy violations are investigated and appropriate training, counseling and/or disciplinary action is initiated.


Responsibilities of the First Officer at the Crime Scene

  1. Respond to the crime scene promptly and safely.
  2. Secure the crime scene to present the destruction or contamination of evidence. Officer shall utilize crime scene tape, as needed.
  3. Initiate a crime scene roster to keep a log of all those who enter and exit the scene
    1. NOTE: Only necessary personnel shall enter the crime scene.
  4. Document all information and actions for time-line purposes.
  5. Prepare the original offense report.
  6. Locate items of evidence.
  7. Photograph and sketch the scene, when appropriate.
  8. Collect physical evidence.
  9. Preserve and package physical evidence.
  10. Submit evidence to lab for analysis.


Request Investigator for Crime Scene

  1. The officer assigned to the cases listed below shall request an investigator to respond for the purpose of processing the crime scene of:
    1. Shootings
    2. Homicides, suicides, and suspicious or sudden deaths
    3. Rapes and attempted rapes
    4. Arsons and attempted arsons
    5. Burglaries or larcenies involving extensive damage or loss of property.
  2. Other situations may arise where the patrol officer wishes the investigator to respond to the crime scene. The officer should utilize a Criminal Investigations Checklist to ensure that a thorough investigation is being conducted. If an investigator is still needed, the officer must first receive approval from his/her supervisor.
  3. The patrol officer taking the preliminary report has the responsibility of notifying their supervisor to determine the need for an investigator. If necessary, an investigator should be requested immediately if it is indicated that a delay would affect the investigation or evidence of the crime. The investigator will be on call 24 hours a day for the purpose of crime scene processing. The investigator's response time should be less than one hour.
  4. The supervisor will then make the request for the investigator to respond to the crime scene.
  5. Upon arrival of the investigator(s) at the crime scene, the investigator will assume the responsibility of for the processing of the scene. The officer may be called upon to assist the investigator.
  6. The investigator may direct officers to carry out a variety of functions to facilitate the collection of evidence and protection of the scene.


First Officer on Scene

  1. The officer shall not rush into the crime scene. An armed suspect may still be present or accidental destruction or contamination of evidence may occur.
  2. The officer shall first render aid to any victim(s) at the scene, unless the officer must immediately protect himself or herself from a suspect.
  3. If probable cause exists that the suspect committed a felony, the officer shall arrest, search, note any spontaneous statements made, and advise the suspect of his or her rights.
  4. The officer must request the dispatcher to notify the supervisor and determine equipment needs if the officer is to process the scene.


Protecting the Crime Scene

  1. The first officer on the scene must secure the initial point of the incident and extend the area of protection out towards the perimeter. Having secured the area in which a crime was committed, the officer should expand coverage as personnel arrive.
  2. Crime scenes may be secured in the following ways:
    1. Police officer(s)
    2. Barricades or rope or banner guard used to define areas to be protected
    3. Signs used to control access


Offense Report

  1. The officer's original report is his or her most readily available record of the crime scene. Information the officer should record at the scene to be placed in the offense/incident report includes:
    1. Date and time of arrival at the scene
    2. Location of crime
    3. Name of victim(s), if known
    4. Name of suspect(s), if known
    5. Actions taken at scene to include:
      1. Number of photographs taken
      2. Measurements taken
      3. Listing of physical evidence removed
    6. Case number
    7. Name of collecting officer
  2. In addition to the above information, the following should be included when a crime scene specialist is involved:
    1. Date and time request for service was received
    2. Name of investigating officer
    3. Disposition of physical evidence
    4. Disposition of crime scene measurements


Preliminary Crime Scene Survey

  1. Officers and investigators actions at the crime scene should include the following:
    1. Observe and record (look, listen, smell, but don't touch)
    2. Determine nature and extent of crime scene
    3. Determine location of evidence
    4. Determine order of collection
    5. Duplicate movement of perpetrator and plan search
    6. Note all existing conditions (lights, environment)
    7. Note items out of place or damaged
    8. Note relationship between items
    9. Initial rough sketch should be made


Photographing the Crime Scene

  1. Photographs will be taken of the entire crime scene. When the evidence is such that size is questionable, the scale will be placed beside the evidence in the field of view to be photographed. When taking photographs, the evidence will be photographed both with and without a scale. The dimensions of a fixed object in the scene shall be taken to provide a scale of reference as needed.
  2. The officer processing the crime scene will maintain a record of each photo taken at the crime scene. Information to record will include:
    1. Type of camera used
    2. Kind of lighting (daylight or flash)
    3. Direction of camera at exposure
    4. Date and time of the exposure
    5. Brief description of each photo taken
    6. Dimensions of a fixed object in the scene as needed
    7. Type of film used, and
    8. Case number
  3. Overall photographs will be taken at the end of the preliminary scene survey. These photos should be taken from several locations, including the surrounding areas. In most cases a wide-angle lens should be used for interior crime scenes.
  4. Midrange photography is used to orient the viewer as to the exact location of items of evidence. Two items of evidence should be included in the field of view (or use a common item - bed, desk, table) in midrange photos. Midrange photos should always be taken with a normal lens to prevent distortion.
  5. Close up photography shall be used before any item of evidence is moved. When taking close up photos, the frame should be filled with the item of evidence.


Crime Scene Sketches

  1. Detailed crime scene sketches are normally prepared only in major crimes. Minimum detail to be contained in the sketch includes, but is not limited to:
    1. Time and date of preparation
    2. Location of offense
    3. Location of items of evidence in the scene
    4. Location and names of victims, witnesses, and suspects, if applicable
    5. Relationship of the crime scene to other rooms, buildings, or roads
    6. Name of person preparing the sketch
    7. Direction of north
    8. What lights were on/off
    9. What windows were open
    10. Radio/television, on or off
    11. Any other information which is pertinent to the case or which may be needed for a detailed drawing at a later date.


Physical Evidence

  1. Any physical item found at the scene of a crime, must when presented in court, show a complete chain of custody from the time it was first taken into possession until presented as evidence.
  2. Some physical evidence may be immediately apparent; other evidence may require a detailed search.
  3. The investigator, in locating evidence, must not disturb it until it is properly recorded.
  4. The investigator will ensure that the evidence is not touched or moved before proper documentation of the observations, supplementing these with photographs and sketches.
  5. At the crime scene, one investigator should be assigned to handle the evidence to enhance the chain of custody for the evidence.
  6. Anything, which might lead to the identification of the perpetrator or to the manner in which the crime was committed, is considered as important evidence. Such things include: fingerprints, footprints, tire tracks, tools, traces of tools, weapons, shells, bullets, personal property, clothing, broken headlights, glass, narcotics, blood, hairs, seminal stains, tooth marks, discarded food stuffs and handwriting.
  7. The evidence must be identified with the place of discovery, noting where it was found, when it was found, what it looked like, and who found it.
  8. The evidence will further be identified with place of discovery, uncontaminated and unchanged in character.
  9. The evidence will be marked to assure that its identity can be established in the future. The marking is necessary for the officer to prove in court that it is the same as that found at the crime scene. These markings should be as small as possible on the piece of evidence. Suitable marking depends on the article, and those articles, which cannot be marked (i.e. hair), will be placed in a container.
  10. All articles, which may have some value as evidence such as burnt matches, tool marks, etc., should be collected.
  11. In collecting evidence, the sample must be of sufficient quality to permit laboratory testing. Standard or known samples should be included for testing.
    1. When collecting perishable evidence, such as fresh blood, physiological stains, tissue or biological materials, the crime scene investigator will also collect known samples, if available, for submission to a forensic laboratory.
    2. This type of evidence will be sent to the laboratory as soon as possible, after collection, to help assure a most positive result.
  12. The evidence's purity and original integrity must be preserved. Suitable and sterile containers must be used. Moveable evidence must be carefully wrapped labeled or placed in suitable containers, sealed and marked with the identification symbol, information concerning the source of sample, date and time of collection, the case number, and the name of the person who removed the evidence and placed it inside the container.
  13. It is essential that officers use the utmost safety when obtaining evidence regarding chemical agents or items, which can cause injury if exposed to.
  14. The evidence then will be transported to avoid damaging or destroying it. This evidence will be delivered to the laboratory by the investigator in such a manner as to keep the chain of evidence established.
  15. The chain of custody will be maintained at all times in the storing of evidence.


Evidence Marking

  1. Marking and labeling of evidence may represent a single process. When evidence is large, complete identifying data may be recorded directly on the evidence. This shall include the officer's name, date, time, and location of recovery, item number and case number.
  2. When the small size or nature of the item collected will not permit complete information noted directly on the item, the container or an attached tag should be marked.
  3. Instruments that may be used for marking physical evidence include permanent markers (felt tip pens), scribes (diamond tip or awl), or where labels are used, ballpoint pens.
  4. The officer collecting the items of evidence is the person responsible for marking or labeling the item at the time it first comes into custody.
  5. Each officer/investigator should develop his/her own identifying mark. Normally, it shall be his/her initials, but it may be some other mark.
  6. Follow Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, Bureau of Forensic Science, Physical Evidence Collection Guide.


Evidence Packaging

  1. The collecting officer should choose a container suitable to the type of evidence he/she intends to package. Some considerations include:
    1. Size and weight of the item
    2. Whether the item is moist (which could rot or deteriorate if packaged in plastic or airtight container)
    3. Wet (soaked) items must be package in plastic and transported immediately
    4. Use Property/Evidence Record for inventory
  2. Fluids or stains should not be allowed to touch and should be rolled in paper. Item should be packed to minimize interior movement within the package.
  3. The package should be sealed with tape. The collecting officer will initial across the seal. The exterior of the package should be labeled. Whenever possible, the package should be labeled before placing the evidence in it so as not to damage contents while writing on it.
  4. The collecting officer should follow the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services Bureau of Forensics Science Physical Evidence Collection Guide.


Latent Prints

  1. When processing the crime scene for latent fingerprints, the officer/investigator shall take the following into consideration:
    1. Size of the item to be dusted,
    2. Type of surface, and
    3. Potential for destruction, if moved.
  2. If a department member processes a crime scene for latent fingerprints, the latent prints must be packaged in the stamped envelopes provided by the Property Office. The latent envelope submissions must be filled out completely and submitted before the officer’s end-of-shift on the day that the evidence is processed for latent prints.


Overall Measurements

The obtaining of wall, room, and building measurements is one of the last operations to be performed in the processing of the crime scene. The overall measurements are vital in the production of the final crime scene sketch, but must be obtained last so as not to damage or destroy items of evidence. Take measurements by use of triangulation or coordinate method so that later one can exactly place the item of evidence at the crime scene.


Final Search

A final search should be conducted at the crime scene in the event that some evidence may have been overlooked. When manpower is available, the final search should be conducted with some officers that have not previously been exposed to the crime scene.


Preservation of Perishable Items

  1. When a rapidly deteriorating item of evidence has been collected, it should be transported to the forensic lab the same day, if at all possible.
  2. The laboratory should be called before the officer transports a perishable item to the lab.
  3. When immediate transport to the lab is not possible, the officer should refrigerate or air-dry the items of evidence. Evidence should never be stored under these conditions for more than a week.
  4. Many items submitted to the lab must be accompanied by a known specimen so a comparison can be made. The investigating officer will be responsible for obtaining any required known specimens, following legal procedures, and submitting them, along with other items of evidence, to the forensic lab for analysis and comparison.


Chain of Custody

  1. It is imperative to maintain a proper chain of custody each time there is a transfer in physical evidence. The first person collecting the evidence will record the following:
    1. Date and time of transfer
    2. Receiving person's name
    3. Reason for transfer
    4. Name and location of the laboratory
    5. Synopsis of event and examination requested
    6. Date and time evidence returned, and
    7. Synopsis of results of examination.
  2. It will be the investigating officer's responsibility to complete the Request for Laboratory Examination form and include it with the submitted evidence.
    1. Any evidence submitted to the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, Bureau of Forensic Science, will be accompanied by a completed Request for Examination Form DCLS FS 002 (12079).
    2. The bottom part of the request form is reserved for documentation of chain of custody, and must be completed by relinquishing officer a well as the receiving party at the lab.
    3. The Bureau of Forensic Science provides written results on all requested examinations.
    4. Once an officer has received confirmation that the evidence analysis is completed, they shall respond within two (2) weeks to pick up the same.
    5. The officer shall utilize the VCUPD Evidence Form for acknowledgement of receipt and discharge from the Forensic Laboratory.
    6. Once the form is completed, the officer shall turn in the same to the Property Division for record keeping.
    7. The form shall be kept for a period of one (1) year.
  3. All evidence, after being properly marked and recorded, shall be submitted to the Property Unit or secured in an evidence locker.
  4. Evidence shall not be stored in a member's personal locker, mailbox or other area not specifically designated for the storage of evidence.
  5. Any member who needs to take evidence to a judicial function is responsible for making arrangements with the Evidence/Property Technician.
  6. The responsibility for safekeeping of evidence shall rest with the member who signs for its custody.
  7. All evidence shall be returned to the Property Unit or secured in an evidence locker, except when evidence is retained by the court. Under such circumstances, the officer is responsible for obtaining a written receipt from the Clerk of Court and returning the receipt to the Evidence/Property Technician.


Special Considerations

  1. Failure to recover physical evidence or photograph scenes of serious crimes -- Whenever photographs are not taken or where physical evidence is not recovered from the scene of a serious crime against person or property, the investigating officer will prepare a report giving the reasons why these things were not done. This may be included in the supplemental report.
  2. Processing Stolen Vehicles -- anytime an officer of this department recovers a stolen vehicle, it shall be treated with the same care in processing for physical evidence as any other crime scene. As with any other recovered property, the owner shall be notified as well as the agency to which it was reported stolen, so that all necessary notification can be properly made.
  3. Inventory of Impounded Vehicles - The VCU Police Department will inventory all confiscated vehicles, which come into the agencies' possession. All areas of the vehicle and the contents of any closed containers therein, will be searched pursuant to this directive in order to ensure officer safety and property documentation. The list of all inventoried items will be placed on the agency's "Vehicle Impoundment Record" form. Items of value (TV's, stereos, money, etc.) will be turned over to the Property Office and documentation of such made on the form.
  4. Computer/electronic/cell phone evidence – VCUPD officers shall be aware that computer/electronic evidence seized for the purposes of investigation can be rendered useless if collected, packaged and/or analyzed incorrectly. The IT Manager shall be called upon for assistance with items that could be compromised. Assistance from the RPD Technical Assistance and Computer Crimes Unit is also encouraged for investigations that rely upon electronic data sources.
    1. NOTE: Processing of electronic/computer/cell phone evidence shall be expeditious, within 72 hours whenever possible. These items shall be returned as soon as possible unless being held as evidence.



  1. The training academy will periodically give training in crime scene procedures/processing, to both new and veteran officers when directed. This will familiarize and update the officers in:
    1. Potential and limitations of examination of physical evidence.
    2. The role of the officers at the crime scene.
    3. Collection methods, procedures regarding fingerprints, footprints, blood, fibers, fabrics, weapons, hair, paint, glass, tool marks, and requirements for collection of materials from a known source for comparison purposes.
    4. Preservation methods for various forms of physical evidence.
    5. Maintaining the chain of custody, marking evidence, and maintaining evidence records.
    6. The crime or accident scene sketch.
    7. Crime or accident scene photography and
    8. Crime or accident scene records
  2. These courses, together with information from the Training Academy and department directives, provide information for the officers in crime scene procedures and processing to update their knowledge concerning forensic laboratory capabilities, and acquaint them with new developments in equipment and examination techniques. In addition, newly appointed recruits are given training in crime scene procedures while in the Police Academy.
  3. Specialized courses are provided periodically to persons responsible for crime scene processing to develop the following skills:
    1. Photographing crime or accident scenes
    2. Preparing crime or accident scene sketches
    3. Recovery of latent fingerprints or palm prints
    4. Recovery of foot, tool, or tire impressions, and
    5. Collecting, preserving, and transmitting physical evidence including biological materials.


Revision History

This policy supersedes the following archived policies:

None - New Policy