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Field Guide for Palouse/Clearwater Search & Rescue Members - page 7 / 7





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This type of search is used when relatively small clues are being sought, for instance, candy wrappers or cigarette butts.  Searchers make sweeps through the search area in tight formation – perhaps a spacing of 4-10 feet.  Rather than wandering, members stay in formation during each sweep.  This type of search takes significant resources.  Consider an 8-member team searching an area that's a quarter mile square.  Eight people at 10-foot spacing covers an 80-foot swath at perhaps one mile per hour (or one-quarter mile in 15 minutes).  This requires 17 sweeps, which takes over four hours.

D. Evidence Search

This type of search is used to look for evidence at a crime scene, perhaps a bullet, casing, or other tiny clue.  Searchers are literally on their hands and knees.  Often the area is gridded into one-meter squares using string.  Searchers carefully investigate each square, perhaps removing vegetation to a place outside the search area.

VII. The Search as a Crime Scene

Unless positive proof to the contrary is present, every search scene is considered and treated as the scene of a crime.  The reason for a subject's disappearance is, hopefully, inattention or accident, but it could be because of abduction, rape or murder.  A criminal investigation requires certain procedures, and searchers are part of the criminal investigation team.

A. Rules of Evidence

First, do no harm.  If you find a clue, do not move or touch it (unless it is in immediate danger of destruction).  Contact Base Camp to report the clue, then mark it and note it in your field notes.  Include the date and time, location, description, and condition.

If Base Camp directs you to remove the evidence, you should avoid handling it directly.  Use tweezers to handle the item, and place it in a plastic bag.  Place that bag, plus a piece of paper containing the name of the person who collected the evidence, the date and time, and the location, in another plastic bag.  If there is any doubt as to how to proceed, contact Base Camp.

If you are equipped with a camera, take two photos of the evidence.  The first should show the evidence exactly as you found it.  The second should include an item (a ruler or knife) that can show the scale of the photo.

In law enforcement, a concept called "chain of evidence" exists.  It means that any item used as evidence must have a trail showing which people have handled the evidence from the time it is discovered until it is used in court.  If you find evidence, it is vital that the chain is not broken by what you did or failed to do.  If you are the first to find evidence and preserve it, when you hand it over to a law enforcement officer, be sure to record when and to whom you gave it.

If you are among the first people to investigate a vehicle, approach it obliquely so that you will not obliterate footprints.  This way Trackers can record any footprints.  When you leave the vehicle, try to retrace your approach route.  If you have found evidence of a crime scene, mark your footprints as above.

If you encounter what appears to be a deceased person, send one person to approach the person to investigate, again trying to avoid disturbing the scene as much as possible.  This makes it easier for Trackers to determine whether the person was alone at death.  Remember that the area around the body offers the best source of evidence of a potential crime.  If possible, cordon the area with flagging tape to keep it pristine.  A distance of 50 feet might be a good working distance.

B. Taking Notes

Searchers should keep notes ("field notes") so that they will have a written record of what transpired on a search.  This is important because in these days of "litigation fever" there is a possibility that you will be called to testify in court.  Good notes allow you to be able to relate in a courtroom what happened during a search.  While you may believe that you have an infallible memory, in court a person working from memory is a less credible witness (if he/she is used at all) than one working from notes.  It is rare that field notes would be subpoenaed by the court or attorneys, so your notes don't need to be a running commentary on the search, but they do need to contain a record of the important things that transpired, and they need to be legible.  If you can't read your own notes, you are not a credible witness!

Items to include in your notes include the date and time for each entry, the location, a list of team members, the weather conditions, lighting, your route or assignment, what you found, decisions that were made, and people who were contacted.  You could also include sketches of clue sites, topography, and other information that could be better communicated graphically.

PCSAR Field Guide August 2011Page 7

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