Discovering CSI Sussex
by Robert Veitch
CSI’s are enjoying a moment in the spotlight with TV dramas and excitement surrounding this fascinating career. Robert Veitch discovers what the job actually entails from CSI Tony Gregory.
Haywards Heath Police Station is tucked away on the route of the old A272, close to the centre of town. One branch of police work that has become more widely known in recent years thanks to television exposure, is the forensic work of the CSI – Crime Scene Investigator.
The amiable Tony Gregory greeted me with a firm handshake and generous smile. Tony has been with the police since 1999, although he has never been a police officer.
Tony served in the British Army for 15 years, including active service in Kuwait during the first Gulf War. After that, he worked for two years in the travel industry before taking a psychometric test. The result revealed analytical work would be a good fit for his character and attributes. Just a week later Tony saw an advert in a local paper, recruiting for Sussex Police and urged on by his wife, he applied. “The rest is history,” he said with a chortle.
After two years “prepping files ready for Court” in contested trials (where a not guilty plea is entered), Tony transferred to CSI. When he transferred, the role was widely known as SOCO (Scene Of Crime Officer) but the title has changed to reflect the heightened enthusiasm of the public – back in 2001 there were 45 applicants for 16 positions.
Tony told me recruitment has changed because of television; “there are so many people interested in this kind of role” due to it’s glamorous presence in the media. Nowadays there can be up to 200 applicants for a single position and consequently the entry criteria has gone up; A levels are a must, a degree is preferable. However other skills such as teamwork, leadership and public service mean that applicants also need real world experience to back up academia. Transferable skills from the real world are also extremely useful.
The CSI team are not first responders at incidents, that is the role of the police. The CSI department follow the police, searching for evidence at the crime scene.
Tony’s first job as a CSI was harvesting DNA data from car crimes to populate a national database. Work done years ago can still help with convictions many years later, particularly with cold cases. “It’s a fascinating career,” remarked Tony, “the enthusiasm of a nosey parker, coupled with the ability to process information logically is essential to a CSI.” Most of the forensic work involves shoplifting, burglary, car crime, drugs, armed robbery, arson, rape and murder.
The basics of the job remain the same as they’ve always been, but changes have come from improved technology. Fingerprinting arrived in the 1890s and is still in regular use today, although “custody fingerprinting is more like using a photocopier.” Fifty years ago a drop of blood might yield the blood group, these days it provides an individual’s genetic fingerprint. Advances have also been made with photography. The 32 frame wet film cameras of the past have been replaced by the digital era. “Nowadays we might take two or three times as many pictures as before,” said Tony. “There’s even a special lens that takes a complete 360˚ panorama.” The speed of the information flow has also changed; reports are no longer handwritten, but computer based and instantly accessible across the police force.
“There isn’t a typical day,” said Tony. “Book on, see what jobs have been passed on, then prioritise and organise the jobs depending on the weather, people available and so on.” Normally 2-3 crime scenes are investigated in a standard 8-9 hour shift. Shift patterns are on a rolling roster of six days on and three days off, with hours ranging from 08:00-22:00. There’s also the two days on call in every six to consider (and Tony had been called out at 4am on the morning I met him).
The Haywards Heath station covers a large area: East Grinstead, Billingshurst, Pulborough, Amberley, Burgess Hill, Crawley, Horsham, Steyning, Henfield and Storrington. However, CSI staff can be called anywhere in Sussex or Surrey if circumstances demand it.
With a great deal of pride Tony continued, “I really enjoy the role, it’s definitely a good job if you like meeting people, can plan your own day, and show responsibility. There are different situations every day, or the same scenarios in different settings. Every day is different, mainly due to the people you meet.”
Tony was one of eight CSI’s involved at the Shoreham Air Crash in August 2015, spending a week on site with a mobile office. He explained, “There can be emotional tolls with forensic work so applicants need to be prepared to be able to cope with unpleasant experiences. We talk about them afterwards, the stiff upper lip of the past has gone.” There is an awful lot of support and understanding these days.
Our time up, Tony was off to mentor two new recruits who were learning the ropes. They can rest assured they will be learning from an expert in his field.
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