Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 631

Mike O’Hara, Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 631 special agent and Staff Sgt. Jaimie Doney, 673rd Security Forces Squadron, use a metal detector to search for a bullet casing buried in snow during a training exercise held at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 18-19, 2021. The technique was part of a crime scene exercise to test operational readiness in winter environments. 

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 631, embraced their surroundings by hosting a multi-agency, crime scene exercise in arctic conditions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson March 18-19.

The exercise employed regular law-enforcement practices that may be impacted by outdoor elements such as wind or snow.

The 673rd Security Forces Squadron, the Conservation Law Enforcement Office, Army Criminal Investigation Division and the 673rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office also participated.

“While every crime scene is unique, outdoor scenes are especially challenging because agents have to work against the clock, as the elements change the nature of evidence over time,” said Clayton Drown, a special agent and OSI Det. 631 commander. “JBER conservation officers taught us blood drops in snow can be carried off by scavenging birds or a gust of wind, direct sunlight can change a footprint in snow, and a bullet casing could become difficult to recover.”

To mitigate these unique problems, the exercise focused on three techniques: how to find bullet casings, how to cast foot and tire prints, and how to collect a blood sample all left behind in Alaska’s dry snow. Dry snow is powdery and easily blown around by wind.

To find bullet casings, the Conservation Law Enforcement Office taught participants how to use an evidence-collection technique featuring metal detectors and sifters. Participants found the metal detectors did not penetrate more than a few inches into the snow, creating a tedious task of searching the snow section by section, layer by layer.

An OSI forensic science consultant then taught participants the best techniques for collecting blood from snow. Collection techniques included cotton swabs, plastic containers, distilled water and spoons, which melt the snow away while maintaining the integrity of the blood.

CLEOs, the OSI FSC, and CID forensic technicians collaborated to exchange techniques and teach participants about collecting details from footprints and tire prints. Participants learned to use layers of spray paint, oblique lighting techniques, and specific camera settings to capture high-grade images of imprints left in the snow. Agents learned to alter casting techniques for the below-freezing temperatures so the mixture would not melt imprints when poured into the impression.

“It’s critical for all JBER law enforcement agencies to mount a coordinated response to any crime scene, especially those located in remote areas when time is working against us,” Drown said. “This exercise allowed all of us to work together, exchange best practices, and ensure we’re able to efficiently execute our mission whenever and wherever the need arises.”

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