An empty shell casing along a dirt road may be trash to some, but for a Wildlife Conservation Officer it could serve as a key piece of evidence in a poaching case.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission routinely investigates a wide array of crimes against wildlife, such as poaching, and WCOs rely on forensics to not only make their case, but to have it hold up in court if it goes that far.
The PGC’s Northeast Region Office will present a program next Tuesday highlighting the importance of forensics in their work and the techniques they use to build a case.
It’s not unlike the forensics work conducted by other law enforcement agencies and highlighted on popular television shows such as “CSI:Crime Scene Investigation”, said Bill Williams, the region’s information and education supervisor.
“Our officers deal with a lot of the same elements, such as blood and tissue evidence and ballistics,” Williams said. “In most of our cases we collect evidence to some degree.”
Williams mentioned a deer poaching case in Wayne County last year where blood was collected at the scene and also from a suspect’s vehicle. The samples were sent to the DNA lab at East Stroudsburg University to determine a match.
Biological samples, such as blood, tissue and hair, are sent to ESU where tests can not only determine a match, but from what species they came from as well. A cause of death can also be determined, Williams said, such as blood samples taken from a eagle that determined it was poisoned.
Ballistics evidence, such as an empty shell casing, are sent to the Pennsylvania State Police crime lab. Tests are so detailed that they can match the marks on a primer to the firing pin on a specific firearm, Williams said.
“When we inform a suspect about what we can test the evidence for, it’s not uncommon to get a guilty plea,” Williams said.
This year, the PGC will get some assistance when it comes to evidence collection thanks to its K-9 program, which will also be highlighted during Tuesday’s presentation.
Williams said PGC special investigator Dave Allen and his canine Skye – a 6-month old Labrador retriever, will conduct a demonstration on searching for evidence and tracking.
“Wildlife forensics is a topic that a lot of the public doesn’t realize how important it is to our officers and the techniques they employ to build cases and solve crimes,” Williams said. “It’s just like any other crime scene with a firearm, evidence and a suspect.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky