A day in the life of a criminal investigator


 DuBOIS – In the world of law enforcement, criminal investigators are one of the many faces who work behind the scenes to solve crimes.

Shawn Compton is one of two criminal investigators working for the DuBois-based state police. Compton has been a criminal investigator for three years. He said his uncle was a state police officer and he was always interested in a career in law enforcement but at the time, it was very difficult to get into the state police academy.

Compton graduated from the state police academy in May 1998. He was assigned to the Clearfield-based state police as a patrol officer and was transferred to the DuBois-based state police in September 2001. Although Compton investigated crimes as a patrol officer, he wanted to become involved in more in-depth investigations and he applied for the position of criminal investigator when it opened.

Compton is currently working on cases involving burglaries, criminal mischief, theft, aggravated assaults, sexual abuse, stolen property, and illegal sale of fire arms, to name a few.

“It’s really more of a desk job,” Compton said. “We’re given about 40 to 45 cases at a time and we work each case and prioritize it as it comes in.”

He said also works major cases, such as death investigations, rapes, and computer crimes.

“I’m seeing a lot of computer crimes,” Compton said. “As society changes we have to change with it. I’ve had two investigations in the past three days which deal with computer crimes.”

Compton investigates each case and will continue working until an arrest is made and the suspect is sentenced.

When a major crime happens, Compton is contacted either by the 911 dispatch center or from the police station. He will meet with the patrol officers on the scene who will relay information. Compton said he has checklists he uses to catalogue evidence and dusts for fingerprints. If needed, Compton will contact a forensic team from the Punxsutawney station or in the event of a homicide, he will contact the major case team.

“There’s a lot of support staff and officers from the different stations work together. The first 24-48 hours after a crime are critical on a major case. We have to conduct interviews, and preserve evidence. A lot of the time, you can tell pretty quickly which way it’s going to go,” Compton said.

He said the best part of his job is being able to help people who can’t help themselves and standing up for the victim. He said the worst part is  knowing someone committed a crime but being unable to prove it.

“We have rules and regulations to follow and people will sometimes get upset because they think we’re not doing anything. They don’t understand we have to be able to prove they did it before we can get a warrant,” he said.

Compton said people often ask how he handles dealing with these types of crime every day. He said before it didn’t used to bother him, but he’s shocked how his feelings have changed now that he is a father.

“Sex crimes and crimes against children can be difficult,” he said.

Although he doesn’t watch television shows such as CSI and Law and Order, he said other officers he’s worked with say those types of shows make things difficult for him.

“People think we can solve these crimes and convict the people who have done it in an hour. In reality, it can take months and even years which makes it tough for us because of the statutes of limitations,” Compton said.

Compton has many tools which make his job easier. He said he has access to information databases which allow him to send fingerprints or DNA for instant comparison against information from other cases across the country. He said there have been instances where he has submitted blood and has gotten hits on an old case in other counties.

A large part of Compton’s job involves interviewing witnesses and potential suspects. He said a key factor in police interviews is trying to “outsmart” the suspect and trying to know what answers the suspect is going to give before they give them. A lot of the time, Compton said he asks questions he already knows the answer to.

He also said the smallest clue can help solve a case.

“There was a rash of burglaries along Route 219 a while go and we had found a shoe print which matched prints we had found at other crime scenes. With that one shoe print, we were able to tie the burglaries together and find the person responsible,” he said.

A misconception people may have about criminal investigators is that although he does a lot of detective work, he is not a detective.

“The patrol officers do a little bit of everything,” Compton said. “A criminal investigator is more focused and we can investigate everything from harassment to homicide. We can devote more time to doing the leg-work needed to break these cases.”

He said a criminal investigator is trained to focus on things a lot of people may miss, such as blood. He said most people would just see the blood, but a criminal investigator will look at where the blood is, how it got there, and what force caused it to get there.

“Every crime scene is different and we have to know what is important and what isn’t.” Compton said.

©Courier-Express/Tri-County 2008


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