News

A day in the life of Kitsap County Sheriff's detectives

Detective Doug Dillard flips through the FBI Facial Identification Catalog. Based on witness and victim accounts, Dillard uses the catalog to create composite sketches of suspects.  - Photo by Brad Camp
Detective Doug Dillard flips through the FBI Facial Identification Catalog. Based on witness and victim accounts, Dillard uses the catalog to create composite sketches of suspects.
— image credit: Photo by Brad Camp

By RACHEL BRANT

Staff writer

The television detectives of “Law & Order” and “CSI” use state-of-the-art tools to solve homicide cases in the blink of an eye.

But the Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives say television shows and movies are far from the truth.

“No, that’s not reality. None of that is true,” said Detective Lori Blankenship. “This is reality.”

Detective work isn’t all about gathering evidence and interrogating suspects until they cry. Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives spend long hours flipping through pages and pages of paperwork. Chief of Detectives Dave White, Detective Lt. Earl Smith and their crew of dedicated detectives spend long hours in the field, as well as in their Port Orchard office.

All in a day’s work

Blankenship became a Kitsap County Sheriff’s detective in 2002. Prior to that, she worked as a deputy patrolling the roadways, but decided it was time for a change.

“It just kind of came up,” she said. “You reach a point in your career where you’re ready for something different and I was there.”

All of the detectives are general, meaning they cover all different types of cases, but Blankenship’s workload primarily consists of sex crimes.

“We’re all general, but 90 percent of my caseload is sex crimes and that’s just because there are a lot of them,” she said.

The detectives meet weekly to discuss their cases and share the workload. Blankenship typically carries 12-15 cases until they are closed. She goes out in the field a couple of times a week to gather evidence and conduct interviews, but many people come to the Port Orchard sheriff’s office where detectives talk with suspects, victims and witnesses in the interview room, complete with a two-way mirror so the suspects can be observed from another area.

Blankenship said the detectives are trained to read people when conducting interviews. They are able to tell when people are lying based on how they answer questions and several other factors.

“You get to read a person by body language, eye contact,” Blankenship said. “You just get to read a body, that’s what we’re trained to do.”

Blankenship said detectives accumulate a lot of paperwork during the years. She has tons of jam-packed binders lining the shelves surrounding her office walls filled with case after case.

“Everything you do creates paperwork, tons and tons of paperwork,” Blankenship said.

Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives frequently receive felony cases from the Bremerton, Poulsbo, Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island police agencies. Child Protective Services also gives the Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives cases to investigate.

“They just don’t have the manpower to conduct big felony investigations,” said Deputy Scott Wilson, KCSO spokesman.

Blankenship said detectives work normal eight-hour days, but are always subject to call out. They rotate on-call duties and she was called out last weekend in the early morning hours to investigate a shooting. It turned out a gun had been fired, but no one was injured.

“On a normal shift we do eight hours, but we’re always subject to call out,” Blankenship said. “If a shooting were to happen right now we’d be out the door in 30 seconds.”

Blankenship said detective work “eats at you” after a while, especially cases involving children. One of her first cases as a detective involved a mother who abducted her then-7-year-old child and was on the run. The mother and child were eventually found in New Zealand.

“That’s a sad one because the mom eventually took her own life,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship has investigated numerous cases since that one, but it still sticks in her mind and she remains in touch with the family.

“It was my first case on parental abduction,” she said. “You’re kind of right in the middle of two parents fighting over a child.”

Into the lab

Detectives are trained to do numerous things, but some detectives are specially trained to do certain tasks.

Detective Phil Doremus and other detectives are trained on various aspects of lab work in the Port Orchard laboratory. Although they send numerous items to the state crime labs in Seattle, Olympia and Puyallap, several detectives are trained to collect various DNA samples, such as saliva, to send to the crime labs.

Detectives also are capable of reading blood spatter patterns. They are trained to use algebra and other mathematical formulas to gauge from what angle a person was assaulted and how many times he or she was shot, stabbed or hit based on the spray of blood.

“You can tell certain things by the pattern of blood spatter,” Doremus said.

The detectives’ laboratory has a forensic computer capable of taking a “mirror image of your hard drive.” It is frequently used for child pornography cases, according to Doremus.

Detectives also do marijuana testing in their laboratory to verify if a substance is in fact marijuana.

“There’s so much of it here so they trained us locally to do it,” Doremus said.

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives office is the only jurisdiction on the Kitsap Peninsula that has access to the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). Detectives use the program in the latent fingerprint process.

Doremus said they run a fingerprint, blow it up five times, trace it and scan it into AFIS, which is hooked up to the state system. The system bounces back a list of 15 probable matches and the detective does a manual comparison to find their suspect.

“It’s not like ‘CSI,’ matching fingerprints instantly,” Doremus said. “There’s no facial recognition program. That doesn’t happen.”

Check the tape

Detective Tim Keeler is one of two detectives trained in video forensics. The Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives began working with Avid Media Composer about a year ago to investigate videotapes.

“The system we have is used for TV editing. It’s a pretty widely used system,” Keeler said. “We can take a video and bring it to life better.”

Keeler can take a digital or analog tape and slow it down, zoom in on an area, highlight items, blur faces and create still images with the editing program. In the past, detectives would have to pause a tape on a suspect and snap a photograph of the video with a digital camera to obtain a still image. Now it can be done much easier and does not affect the quality of the tape, according to Keeler.

“There’s a lot of different things we can do with it,” he said. “You can do a lot of neat things with this system.”

A Chevron gas station in Silverdale was robbed before Christmas and Keeler was able to play with the surveillance video using the editing program. The man is still on the loose, but the video forensics equipment may play a key role in catching the suspect.

“We haven’t had tons of cases (to use the video forensics),” Keeler said. “It’s still kind of in its beginning stages at this point.”

Sketching the suspect

Detective Doug Dillard does not consider himself an artist, but he is the area’s composite sketch artist. He works with witnesses and victims to create a sketch of a suspect.

“It’s like building a puzzle,” Dillard said.

He uses the FBI Facial Identification Catalog to create the sketches. The catalog is broken into sections including head and eye shapes. He spends about an hour flipping through the catalog with a witness or victim to draw the sketch by hand.

“Once you use the computer stuff you’re kind of stuck with what you get,” Dillard said. “Doing it by hand is a lot more conducive.”

Dillard said it is often difficult for a person to recognize a suspect’s head shape or nose shape, but they will eventually create a sketch to present to the public in hopes of apprehending the suspect.

“It’s not normal to recognize that kind of thing,” Dillard said. “Victims see the suspects for usually 15-30 seconds and that’s what I’m working on.”

Once he creates the sketch, he again meets with the witness or victim to get their feedback and change what is necessary. He has them rate the sketch’s likeness to the suspect’s image on a scale of 1-10 and goes from there.

“Based on the reaction I get from them I’ll know how close I am,” he said. “Most of the drawings I put together get an eight to 10.”

Dillard created a suspect sketch Wednesday for a burglary that occurred last week in Bremerton. He met with the victim Thursday to finish up and make copies to distribute to the public.

“The drawing is not done until the victim says it’s done,” Dillard said. “Without having a witness who can do this, I can’t do anything.”

Gathering, storing evidence

KCSO moved its property room to Port Orchard in 2002 and acquired much more space, but it is already filled with evidence ranging from guns to televisions and drugs to children’s toys.

As of Jan. 1, deputies and detectives process evidence using Evidence on Q. The computer program allows them to process items and print out labels. They then put them in lockers which can only be opened from inside the property room.

“In the morning we come in and we’ll go through the lockers,” said Evidence Technician Jerry LeFrois.

LeFrois and company then take the items to the processing counter and book them into evidence before storing them in boxes, on shelves or inside a walk-in freezer or refrigerator.

“We create a paper trail with that item that creates continuity,” LeFrois said.

Wilson said whenever evidence is taken out of the property room to go to court, it must be signed out and accounted for.

“You have to show the prosecutor and the courts that it’s always in the hands of a responsible police officer,” Wilson said.

One wall is filled with handguns and long guns and, according to LeFrois, many of them were acquired from domestic violence cases. Some weapons will eventually be disposed of.

“There are some great weapons in here that we have to see go to the chipper or the melter,” LeFrois said.

Drugs seized as evidence are kept in a separate, locked room and the stench of illegal narcotics can be smelled as soon as the door opens.

“Probably 90 percent of the stuff in here was taken out of somebody’s pocket,” LeFrois said.

Some of the drugs will eventually be burned in an incinerator in Tacoma.

With the property room quickly filling up with evidence, Wilson said detectives and deputies are now taking photos of evidence rather than collecting actual items. LeFrois said they always keep evidence from homicide investigations, but other items will be released back to their owners or put up for auction.

“For every item we get in we try to get three out, but it’s not working,” LeFrois said. “Eventually some time this year it’ll go to Stokes Auction.”

On the horizon

The Kitsap County Sheriff’s detectives recently acquired an old Bremerton Fire Department ambulance and are turning it into a crime scene van. Detectives work out of the trunks of their cars at a crime scene, but in about a week, the van will be up and running.

“It’s outdated for the medics, but it’s perfect for what we need it for,” Wilson said.

Doremus said the old ambulance has lots of storage space and it great for allowing detectives to work in poor weather and at night.

“It’s great because it has a lot of storage space in it,” he said. “It’ll work really well for us I think.”

The detectives currently have many cases under investigation. Blankenship is investigating the voyeurism case of Scott Fuchs, the NW Golf Range manager who was arrested for secretly videotaping people in the facility’s restrooms. She also continues to work on the Kimberly Ann Forder case. Forder, of Seabeck, allegedly abused her 8-year-old adopted son which led to his death in 2002.

Despite the difficult times and long hours, Blankenship looks forward to work each and every day.

“There’s not been a day yet where I’m disgruntled to come to work,” she said. “It’s been fun.”

• Editor’s note: A day in the life of ... is a new career feature that will appear at the end of the month in the CK Reporter.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Nov 28
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates