OGDEN -- Believe it or not, some of that stuff on TV is made up. Law enforcement types wish reality would intrude on TV as much as TV intrudes on reality.
The raised expectations from the forensic miracles on such shows as "CSI" and "NCIS," even "Law & Order," just add an extra headache to the real-life job.
Jay Henry, director of the Utah State Crime Lab, aka Utah Bureau of Forensic Services, said he can't even watch.
"I don't watch the shows. They only have two cases an episode, and the whole staff is working on just those two. So what's that? Fifty cases a year? We do 4,000 cases a year."
Prosecutors say there is such a thing as "the CSI effect," he said.
"Jurors want to see some kind of testing ... so I will explain on the stand why we didn't do all the nonsensical tests the jury thinks we should do," Henry said.
The reality gap is something prosecutors also have to confront, in one case as recently as last week.
"It's not like what you see on TV," Weber County Attorney Dee Smith said in answering a question at the Jan. 31 news conference announcing charges in the homicide case of North Ogden teen Alexis Rasmussen.
The 16-year-old disappeared in September, and her body was found in October. A reporter had asked Smith why it had taken almost three months for the charges. Smith answered as he has for almost three months that chemical testing in such cases by Henry's crime lab and the state Medical Examiner's Office takes months, not weeks.
Smith, in an interview, said the TV-driven fantasies also have to be addressed in selecting juries.
"Those shows create an unreasonable expectation about the type of evidence available," he said, "so I want to know which prospective jurors watch those TV shows, especially if I have a case that involves forensic evidence and forensic science."
Smith said a similar educational process is employed with victims and their families.
"We educate them about what's available to us," he said. "What frustrates them is, we don't have the evidence overnight. The science is amazing, but TV is unrealistic as to the time it takes, the time frames."
Officers on the street also have to compete with the TV stereotypes, said Lt. Mark Lowther, a veteran officer and current spokesman for the Weber County Sheriff's Office.
"People watch the techs on 'CSI' or whoever get a fingerprint off a rock, pull out their pocket scanner and the suspect's picture pops up as well as his current address," Lowther said.
"That's entertaining, but we have to educate the public when we respond to calls that it's just not possible.
"There are some amazing things we can do, but we can't do it in an hour. It's not instantaneous. Things like DNA searches of databases take weeks and months."
Lt. Doug Coleman oversees the eight technicians in the real-life CSI unit that operates out of the sheriff's office, providing crime scene analysis for every police department in the county. The agencies are billed for the CSI time.
The main thing they analyze are fingerprints, he said. Their role in DNA is collecting samples for the state crime lab to process. They do little lab work.
And while TV's technicians conduct gunshot-residue tests, or GSR, Coleman said the real CSI, as well as the state crime lab, stopped doing GSR testing 15 years ago.
Gunshot residue, he said, "spreads so much, so far, so fast, it's not just on the shooter."
Events like the instant, on-scene DNA quantification of Osama bin Laden when the terrorist mastermind was shot and killed by Navy SEALS last spring is an example of military budgets sometimes equaling the imaginations of scriptwriters, the officials said.
"I'm assuming they have advanced technology that we don't have available in our labs," Smith said.
Henry said the military represents the cutting edge of such technology.
The SEAL team that took out bin Laden obviously was prepared beforehand for such an identification, with a DNA database available for matching from bin Laden's many brothers and extended family, he said.
They also didn't have to deal with a defense attorney demanding samples for independent testing, Henry said.
"They were in Pakistan. They could do whatever they want."