While still a university student, Skylar Spence is gaining valuable insight from the RCMP forensics unit in North Battleford.
Spence, who is from the Battlefords, attends the University of Regina and is entering her third year of the Political Studies program. Spence is currently working with the forensics unit as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program.
Spence was trained with the Property Crime Examiner’s course, allowing her to process crime scenes for fingerprints and other evidence.
Regarding the opportunity, Spence said, “I heard about it and I thought it’d be a good experience.”
The role of the forensic unit is to document crime scenes and process evidence that would be at the scene, including fingerprints and DNA from saliva and blood. The forensic unit works on various types of crime scenes, ranging in severity from stolen vehicles to break and enters to sexual assaults and homicides.
There are four forensic specialists based out of the North Battleford detachment. They cover Northwest Saskatchewan, all the way west to Lloydminster and as far north as La Loche.
Sgt. Jon Kachur, who is in charge of the forensic unit, said there are seven forensic identification units in the province. Positions are funded by provincial and municipal governments. He said the forensic unit provides service to approximately 26 detachments.
Kachur is originally from Saskatoon and has been in the Battlefords since 2006, and part of the Crime Scene Unit since 2007. Kachur has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan and has worked with the RCMP since 2004. He worked as a general duty police officer for three years.
Kachur applied and got into the forensic identification section in Ottawa.
Part of the job of a forensic identification specialist is giving opinion evidence in court.
An enjoyable aspect of working in the forensics unit, Kachur said, is that the types of crimes vary from very basic to very complex, allowing one to broaden their skillset.
“If you’re dealing just with break and enters all the time, you’re not putting your skills to their fullest use,” Kachur said.
As opposed to frontline policing, which Kachur said is “very reactive,” forensics units have more time to dedicate to certain cases.
Along with working in forensics, Kachur is a police officer, wears a full-duty belt and can arrest people. How often that happens, Kachur said, “is a different story.”
Kachur said the forensic unit is stationed at the North Battleford detachment but should be thought of separate from it. General duty officers report to incidents and call the forensic unit to collect evidence.
What the forensic unit does at certain scenes depends on a number of factors. Kachur and Spence recently attended Vista Towing in North Battleford – one of a few towing companies that work with forensics – to examine a stolen vehicle. A red truck had been stolen out of St. Walburg and recovered in North Battleford.
Spence and Kachur took the license plate number and photos of the vehicle. Inspections would also look at damage to the steering column. Spence took a brush and dusted fingerprint powder on a number of the truck’s surfaces. Typical areas on vehicles that receive this treatment include the doors, door jambs, seatbelts, and mirrors. Other relevant things include bottles. Using glue, a machine at the detachment can detect fingerprints on objects small enough to fit into the machine.
Oils and sweat on skin make fingerprints, Kachur said, and fingerprint powder doesn’t adhere to fingerprints if oils and sweat are frozen. Placing vehicles indoors is important for keeping them out of the elements.
Found fingerprints are sent to Ottawa and compared with fingerprints in the National Criminal Database. Fingerprints are collected from people charged with an indictable offence.
“All fingerprints we find get submitted to a computer system in Ottawa and then what happens is it provides us with a name associated with that fingerprint,” Kachur said.
A forensic specialist would complete a fingerprint comparison and a name would be provided to the investigator.
Sometimes prints lead to potential suspects. Other times the prints belong to someone who lawfully had access to the vehicle.
Spence dusted the door handle of the red truck but little appeared. Vehicle door handles don’t always have prints since such a door is opened by pressing a palm against the handle.
After the forensics unit is finished with a vehicle, the next stop for a stolen vehicle would be SGI, Kachur said. An owner would get paid out if there was damage, and the vehicle would be returned to the owner.
“We get vehicles that are stolen for three minutes and dumped and we get ones that disappear for three weeks and they’ve been driven through fields and sloughs,” Kachur said.
Sometimes stolen vehicles aren’t processed by forensics because they’re too dirty. A footprint was on a step on the truck’s side, but Kachur said it could have just as easily belonged to the tow truck driver. Fingerprint evidence is discriminating, Kachur said, in that it is unique and identifying. Finding a shoe print involves proving a suspect wore the boot.
An ideal to which investigators process a scene is to treat everything as if it would go to court, but Kachur said the forensic unit doesn’t investigate every case with the same rigor and different cases get different priority. More serious crimes such as homicides require much closer attention to detail than, for example, vehicle thefts. (The forensics unit in North Battleford was not the team that processed the SUV on the Gerald Stanley property following the shooting of Colten Boushie.)
Kachur called the forensic unit in North Battleford “by far the busiest forensic section in the province” working on “an average of about 500 files a year.” Kachur said Spence has been much help to the unit.
Kachur described the forensic unit has having “pretty good success rates.”
While La Loche is in their area, the North Battleford-based forensic unit would rarely travel there for property crime given its distance. However, Kachur worked on the La Loche shooting of January 2016.
In winter, Kachur said, when the unit deals with recovered stolen vehicles, crime statistics can drop significantly because of something as simple as people wearing gloves.
“It’s not because the criminals are getting smarter,” Kachur said, “It’s because they’re cold.”
Determining what will or won’t be important later on as evidence can be difficult.
“Forensic work is like a puzzle on a table and sometimes you might not think something is significant at the time, but the more you spend time at a crime scene the more those pieces of the puzzle slowly start to come into place,” Kachur said. “At the end you might not get the full picture of what happened, but you’ll have a pretty good idea.”
At the detachment, Spence processed a bottle of an orange alcoholic drink found with the vehicle.
Spence said she’ll try to work in the Battlefords once training is complete, but the decision to be here isn’t necessarily hers.
Being stationed in different parts of the country is a reality for forensic staff as it is for general duty police officers, but Kachur said forensic unit members aren’t moved as often as general duty police officers are. Kachur said he thinks a reason why general duty officers are moved as often as they are, especially in small communities, is the connections and relationships officers develop can make it harder for them to do their job, and “it’s hard to be more impartial.”
“I’ll go wherever they send me,” Spence said.