When someone perched near I-64 and fired into several vehicles one night in late March, local police shot into action. Area schools were canceled as law enforcement frantically searched for evidence. By the next day, they had arrested two suspects, and charged both with 10 felonies apiece in Albemarle County. “That was a priority,” says Albemarle County Police Lieutenant Todd Hopwood.
What happens when it’s not? Scottsville resident Woody Ward had two electric basses stolen in early March and despite the evidence he says was gathered at the scene—including a hand-drawn map—he did not learn of the instruments’ fate until a month later when the criminals were busted in a bizarre set of circumstances that included the apprehension and escape of a 16-year-old Pomeranian dog.
That is because in smaller localities like Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville there is no capability to analyze fingerprint evidence. “We would love to have our own lab because turnaround would improve,” Hopwood says. At this point, the county has the ability to retrieve prints from evidence which is itself a complicated process.
Unlike in larger localities, local police can’t compare fingerprint results to a database unless they are shipped to Richmond, slowing down some investigations.
“It depends on the material,” says Hopwood, explaining that there are various techniques to retrieve fingerprints, like the practice of dusting, which involves placing a powder on the object and lifting the prints. According to Hopwood, there is a county evidence team with members certified by the state lab.
In larger localities, the fingerprints would then be compared to a database of fingerprints on file. Unfortunately for our area, that can only be done in Richmond where the fingerprint evidence must be sent.
“We don’t have CSI here,” Hopwood says, explaining that the wait for a comparison can be dependent on many factors. “Some things just take time and patience.”
That is no excuse for Ward, who sees this lack of print analysis as ultimately encouraging smaller crimes in our area. “You can say what you want about [Rudolph] Giuliani when he was mayor of New York, but the one thing he did that lowered the crime rate was hitting all these low-level crimes—car break-ins, stolen radios,” Ward says. “He would have cops staking out streets looking for these guys and nailing all this street-level crime—the real stupid stuff like spitting on the sidewalk—because he realized that if we don’t go after the low-end stuff the low-end kids are going to become high-end. Every time they get away with something they’ll try bigger stuff.”
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