Oct 23, 2019

Fresno State forensic crime lab gives students the ‘CSI’ experience

It might not be like the show “CSI,” but there is a full-service forensic crime lab on Fresno State’s campus.

It is an unlabeled, beige-paneled, brick building on the west side of campus – and it is inconspicuous for a reason. The lab must be highly private to protect the evidence behind its doors from contamination.

“Full service” means that the Department of Justice’s Fresno Regional Laboratory is fully stocked with equipment and experts in fields like digital evidence, DNA, firearms, latent prints, controlled substances, toxicology and more.

Delia Frausto-Heredia, the laboratory director of the crime lab, said the lab serves county law enforcement agencies across California, providing services such as crime scene evidence gathering and court testimonies.

Frausto-Heredia said the lab will meet the demands of the agencies. So, whatever service the agencies need, the lab will provide – whether it be at the crime scene, at an autopsy or back in the lab.

However, while no dead bodies will be found in the lab, as it is not a coroner’s office, they do get fingers and decomposing skin, said Frausto-Heredia.

She said the evidence criminalists analyze is for the most serious crimes: serial rape, serial murder, shootings and child pornography cases.

For example, Frausto-Heredia said lab analysts get a number of cases where there’s “a predator on the streets.”

“They bring in the evidence to us, and we will obtain a DNA profile, put it into a database and hopefully, we will get a hit to a person,” she said. “Police make an arrest, and that person is removed from the streets.”

Frausto-Heredia said the lab is an advantage for criminology students because they get to see up-to-date procedures that forensic professionals are using.

“How to process evidence, how to store evidence, and what we do with the evidence – I mean, that’s what they’re getting from a DOJ crime lab. So, it’s a huge benefit,” she said.

Katchen Anderson, a graduate student in chemistry, is studying to become a criminalist. She said her passion is what led her to take the Criminology 113 course. From there, she was linked to the crime lab internship that has been providing her experience for nearly a year.

“It obviously led me to something much bigger, which was my opportunity to intern at the lab and meet Delia…I think she kind of saw my passion for understanding the field,” Anderson said.

Anderson started off in the lab watching professionals at work matching bullets to guns. While following the DNA analysts, she has seen evidence start from “a blood splatter on a pair of jeans to a profile of a suspect.”

Interns are able to shadow the forensic analysts but are not allowed to touch or know details about the evidence being handled.

Frausto-Heredia was once an intern herself. She said that now she gets the joy and rewards of “being able to give my staff what they need to do their job.”

The crime analysts remain passionate about their casework, and it is not like what you see on television shows like “CSI,” Anderson said.

“It is very complex, but it’s obviously not showcasey. Everybody here is very humble about their work. They do their job to get their results and better the crime system,” she said.

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