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Increasing overdoses leading to protective crime scene techniques

Mike Desmond

Anyone who watches crime shows on television, whether a reality show or fiction, knows officers put up that yellow crime tape and wait for the forensics people. That is changing, with the national surge of fatal drug overdoses a major reason. More and more police departments train officers to treat an overdose as a crime scene unless someone of rank decides otherwide.

The images of forensics dealing with crime involve the technicians sweeping into a crime scene and finding the samples or the DNA or the shell casings to solve a crime. Police and prosecutors say arrests and convictions start earlier, with the first cops on the scene.

Cheektowaga Police have been lauded for their key role in the first area conviction of a drug dealer for selling a fatal overdose. They made sure the evidence at the fatal overdose was protected and kept for forensics work.

Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack said it is the training.

"You are responsible for more than just stretching the yellow tape," Zack said. "We expect you to make some sort of assessment and anything that appears that it might be of evidentiary value, to see that it's at least preserved or protected until someone else can arrive to process."

"It's the training that we do in-house. We train our officers regularly on how to handle these scenes," said Buffalo Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. "You don't touch anything. You lock the scene down. You protect the integrity of the scene. You wait for the arrival of the detectives and the crime scene investigators and it's proper collection of crime scene is where cases are solved. Not every case comes with a witness."

U.S. Attorney James Kennedy said increased awareness by officers helps make cases and come after drug dealers in ways they could not before because the evidence had not been protected.

"Move everything and get fingerprints and other potential forensic evidence that might be available, sort of out of the way, just to deal with what is a very tragic situation of an overdose," Kennedy said of past methods. "But now, this increased awareness, I think, that we are starting to see that we are able to build the cases that we need to be able to prove that the death resulted from these distributions."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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