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|CSI West Monroe: Grant provides WMPD with new truck, equipment|
Crime scene investigation just got a little easier thanks to a grant, which secured a vehicle and $11,000 worth of equipment for the West Monroe Police Department.
Cpl. Vernon Pettengill, West Monroe's point man on crime scene investigations, wrote the grant which paid for a new 2009 Tahoe police cruiser and crime scene equipment.
The city of West Monroe provided a 50 percent match to buy the vehicle and equipment. The remaining portion was funded through a Homeland Security grant. The vehicle and equipment totaled about $35,000.
Ouachita Parish Homeland Security director Butch Beckham helped Pettengill write the grant to submit to the Department of Homeland Security.
Pettengill has had the vehicle for about one week.
Mayor Dave Norris and West Monroe Police Chief Christopher Elg want him to use the vehicle to assist any law enforcement agency in the 12-parish region with crime scene investigations.
"If another parish in Region 8 — no matter how big or small the agency — if they need some crime scene help or need some photography or training, I will be available to go help them out," Pettengill said. "A lot of the agencies don't have the funding and they can't send people to (crime scene) school or can't purchase the equipment. That's where we'll come in since it was partially funded by Homeland Security."
"That's fine with me because the more training you have, the better you become … you will never learn everything there is to know," he said. "It's also going to help other agencies because the training and equipment they don't have, I do have, and I can bring it to them at no charge."
Pettengill said it is unique for a police department the size of West Monroe's to have a trained crime scene investigator plus a crime scene vehicle.
"My outlook is this: if you have to work a crime scene, whether it be a burglary or a stabbing, why not try to work it as best as you can to catch the suspect," he said. "My whole goal for this is to collect the evidence needed to catch who we need to catch."
Pettengill has been trained to collect DNA as well as process a crime scene, lift fingerprints with chemicals, powders and an alternate light source. He also is adept in photographing crime scenes or automobile accidents in order to "depict the story of what happened."
Crime scene television shows like CSI have become popular in recent years, but Pettengill said crime scene investigation is nothing like what is depicted on television.
"We can't get a DNA result back in one hour … sometimes it takes two to three years, it all depends," Pettengill explained. "Fingerprints don't pop up on the computer like you see on TV. We don't solve a homicide in one hour either. These things take a lot of time and a lot of work."
Pettengill has been with the West Monroe Police Department for the past seven years. During the past five years, he has been the city's crime scene investigator.
"West Monroe has a low crime rate, so we don't have a lot of violent crimes, but occasionally we will have a shooting or stabbing and we need someone to be able to photograph and collect evidence," he said.
"I've noticed there are some agencies in the area that have little, if any, training to process crime scenes," Pettengill continued. "Usually the bigger cities will have the majority of the training and the equipment. With us being as small as we are, we didn't have that, so I started talking to the chief and major of detectives about this. They started sending me to various crime scene schools. That way we would be able to collect our own evidence and be able to keep the chain of custody small. The bigger your chain of custody, the more area you have for problems, and that will hurt you in the long run when you go to court for testimony. The less people who touch it, the better."
Pettengill works patrol for the police department as well as conducts crime scene investigations. The new crime scene vehicle has the normal equipment a patrol officer uses. All of Pettengill's crime scene tools are housed in the back of the Tahoe in a vault. So, whenever he is out on patrol, he can respond to any accident or crime scene to conduct an investigation.
"That way, if I need to respond to a crime scene, I have everything with me and I won't have to go back and forth trying to get all of this stuff," Pettengill said.
The police department wants to add additional crime scene equipment, but Pettengill said those items are expensive.