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7 Things You Should Know About Being A Police Forensics Expert

You've seen them in Making a Murderer, CSI, and NCIS, but what's the job actually like?

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This is Detective Lori Morgan, a forensics expert with the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.

Discovery Channel

Her office is currently investigating the 1997 murder of Louisiana State University student Eugenie Boisfontaine — a cold-case recently reopened with the hope that new forensic technology can help the investigation. This effort is currently being documented in the Discovery Channel series Killing Fields.

BuzzFeed Science spoke with her about what the job is like:

1. Forensic science isn't really like anything you see in the movies.

CBS / Via youtube.com

Not all crime scenes have easy-to-interpret evidence or even any evidence at all, Morgan said. She told BuzzFeed Science that she thinks it's good that people know about all the hard work that goes into putting pieces of evidence together, but she also thinks that it can mislead the general public into thinking that there is always going to be that super-clear bit of evidence, fingerprint, or easy-to-profile DNA at any crime scene. "I would say that would be the biggest misconception," she said.

2. The forensics expert in a police department serves as a liaison between the officers and the crime lab. They go to all the big burglaries and homicides to make sure everything is done right.

CBS / Via giphy.com

At the crime scenes, the forensics expert typically takes lots of photos, collects evidence, and documents everything that is going on. "I also work with the coroner making sure that we process the body correctly before it's actually taken away to the autopsy," Morgan told BuzzFeed Science.

3. You have to remove emotion from the equation when looking at a horrific scene, according to Morgan.

CBS / Via thumbnails.cbsig.net

You have to go into a crime scene and look at it as a science problem, and not get swept up into the emotional aspect of it. "It kind of takes you away from the humanity of it a little bit, but somehow that's how you have to approach it to survive," Morgan said. "I try not to get overly involved in the gruesomeness of what I'm about to see because I think if I get too self-absorbed in that, then it would make me hesitant to do my job."

4. And you have to be really aware of everything that is going on at a crime scene, too.

Brian Jackson / Getty Images

One of Morgan's most memorable cases, for example, was a double homicide where they had to deal with their primary suspect reinserting himself into the scene multiple times to intentionally get his DNA there — that way he could have a documented non-murder-based reason for having his DNA at the crime scene. "He was putting himself there to basically take himself out of the equation," she said.

She and her team were able to find a piece of clothing that had both the suspect's DNA as well as the DNA of both of the two victims. "That was the nail in the coffin for him," she said.

5. Forensic technology has improved remarkably in the last decade, and that has opened up a lot of doors for investigators.

Applied DNA Sciences, Inc. / Via youtube.com

A decade ago, DNA testing wasn't that widespread, Morgan said. Most departments were using something called serology. In forensics, serology is basically the broad characterization of different bodily fluids found at a crime scene. It only sometimes looked at DNA, required a pretty large sample, and was not as discriminating as DNA testing is now.

Now, she said, "we can provide our labs with very minute pieces of evidence and they can develop a DNA profile from that... The machinery and the chemicals have gotten a lot more sensitive."

6. But old-school techniques like fingerprints are still very much part of the game.

Smithsonian Channel / Via youtube.com

Fingerprints are still useful, she said. "Fingerprinting is individualized to each person, whereas DNA can become complicated because identical twins have identical DNA. Fingerprinting still is a single identifying feature for each person." Departments also frequently make use of computer forensics and cell phone data, she said.

7. And finally, after the investigation is done, testifying can be a pretty stressful experience, too.

Netlix / Alex Kasprak / BuzzFeed / Via buzzfeed.com

The forensic officers in a department are usually subpoenaed in any case involving forensic evidence. The questions generally involve how evidence was handled, how the data were collected, and how those data play into the narrative of the case. It can be stressful, she said, because you really need to know every detail of the case super well — the defense will question every aspect of the testimony.

She says you have to be as methodical as possible. "As long as we explain that in truth while we're on the stand, there's usually no problem," she said.

Killing Fields premieres Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. ET/9 CT on Discovery.

Science Writer, Fossil Beastmaster

Contact Alex Kasprak at alex.kasprak@buzzfeed.com.

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