Nabbed by science:
Real-life forensic work is vastly different from that portrayed on TV crime dramas. But the results of pinpointing an offender can be just as satisfying, as Cass Marrett finds.
How real-life forensic work is far removed from TV crime dramas.
After 24 years as a forensic scientist, Dr Sally Coulson (above) has one main piece of advice: Listen to what your parents tell you.
“As my mum always said, ‘Don’t walk down a dark alley at night’.”
It is a lesson that could save your life.
“Some crimes – not all, but some crimes – if you looked after your personal safety a little bit better, then you may not have gotten yourself into the situation that you are in,” says Coulson.
But regardless of whether people are cautious, Coulson still finds herself in a job analysing evidence that could convict a murderer.
“The area we focus on is broadly called trace evidence and that’s applying chemistry techniques to looking at things like glass and paint fibres, accelerants, explosives, all the sorts of things that you might find at a crime scene,” she says.
Coulson is part of a team of experts in the series Forensics New Zealand reconstructing how crimes were committed and later solved using forensic techniques.
“(There is a) misconception that we’d always find something. Testing does take a lot longer than what you might believe on the telly,” says Coulson, who prefers not to buy into the fictional world of crime drama.
“It’s just too much like work. I don’t really want to see that when I get home.”
Although Coulson confirms that real-life seldom mimics the ‘Eureka!’ moments of the CSIs and SVUs of the world, wherever her evidence sits in the bigger picture, there’s one thing that keeps Coulson going.
“To be perfectly honest, quite often we don’t always hear about the outcome of whether there’s been a conviction or not,” she says.
“It’s that satisfaction of knowing I’ve done a good job.”