News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2005


‘CSI’ isn’t real life, but it suggests we can do better

Television's version of crime-scene investigating is not realistic for at least two reasons: Some of the technological resources shown are imaginary, and states such as Alabama don't have budgets to match TV writers' fantasies.

Roger Morrison, director of the state Department of Forensic Sciences regional laboratory at Huntsville, told DAILY Staff Writer Sheryl Marsh that some of the TV detective work "is impossible." He said fictional technicians on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" obtain information from "computer databases that don't exist."

Meanwhile, labs lack the money to do timely investigations using the technology that does exist. Law enforcement agencies must set priorities, asking for quick turnaround on the most urgent cases and accepting delays in others. Morgan County District Attorney Bob Burrell says he has about 100 cases awaiting forensic test results.

In an ideal world, all cases would be solved thoroughly and promptly with the best scientific techniques available. Our world is not ideal, but this is a goal to strive for.

In addition to current cases waiting to be solved, there are old cases on which new techniques might shed new light, enabling investigators to solve previously unsolved crimes or clear people who have been wrongly convicted. You can't reopen old cases wholesale, of course, but some of them are serious enough to take another look.

Again, priorities are an issue: With limited money, how much do you allocate to forensics? One way to make more money available is to engage in smarter spending, such as reducing the number of nonviolent criminals who take up scarce and expensive prison space. Alabama has made progress in this area by accelerating its consideration of paroles.

What you see on TV is not just entertainment. It can suggest ways to improve what we do. Maybe "CSI" can awaken people's imagination to better usage of crime-fighting funds.

Voters ultimately set priorities. As Mr. Morrison said about "CSI," "Although we can't perform at the level you see on TV, the people in turn can make it known to the Legislature that they want that kind of work done."

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