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Friday, March 27, 2020

Orange County Sheriff's Office gave a live online video tour of their forensics unit

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 5:19 PM

  • Screenshot via Orange County Sheriff's Office/Facebook
On Friday morning, the Orange County Sheriff's Office took Facebook viewers on a live video tour of their Forensics Unit, and you can still watch it online.

The tour is led by the office's resident storyteller, Jon Busdeker, and forensics supervisor Vanessa Nylander. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of local law enforcement, and it's also a fantastic break from news coverage of the you-know-what virus (which is approaching 100,000 cases today in the U.S.!).

Tours are usually very limited, to prevent evidence contamination in the storage spaces and labs. The tour is also great for kids (though maybe not young children), especially because in-person tours require substantial hoop-jumping to get in.
  • Screenshot via Orange County Sheriff's Office/Facebook
Scout troops and student groups sometimes attend to get merit badges and extra credit (one Girl Scout tour planned for June is called "Fun With Forensics at Orange County Sheriff's Office").

The unit houses the "behind-the-scenes" investigators, the experts processing evidence to assist in investigations. It consists of crime scene investigators, image lab personnel, a forensics artist and firearms analysts. They analyze trace evidence, reconstruct bloodstain patterns and bullet trajectories, and also crunch data for clues.

"It may be just that small piece of evidence located by a member of the Forensics Unit that solves the case," says the unit's description on the Major Case Section webpage.

Nylander says the tours have a big impact on girls in particular.

"Most of our applicant pools come from females," says Nylander. "You have to have a science background to know how chemicals work. If you are interested in being a crime scene investigator, we encourage you to get a biology degree."

Nylander says her own interest started when she was a South Florida high school student, when she was attending a criminal justice academy. She says her career ambitions were set when a DNA analyst from the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office visited her school. Nylander has been in the unit for nearly 18 years, after graduating from UCF, which back then had one of the only forensics schools in the country.

At one point, we get to see the firearms forensics unit lab and tiny firing range. Specialist Amanda Vibert shows where guns are tested, usually with a waterfall turned on to help control the bullets. (No guns are fired in the video.)
  • Screenshot via Orange County Sheriff's Office/Facebook

One recurring theme of the tour is how many cases the unit handles at once. On TV dramatizations, notes Nylander, they focus on one case at a time, but real forensics units are processing dozens of cases at once. In 2018, Orange County's CSI processed evidence in 1,682 cases, with firearms analysts test-firing 704 weapons.

You can watch the tour on Facebook and YouTube, or right here:

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