VALDOSTA -- Television crime investigation shows have nothing on the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office but the ability to solve three murders in an hour-long program.
Sgt. Jim Jackson, identification technician for the LCSO, says shows like "CSI" and others are only 40 percent accurate and the rest is Hollywood. However, many of the gadgets that are used by the TV crime fighters can be found here in Lowndes County.
Recently, the live scan machine which fingerprints every person booked into the jail, helped identify a man wanted for a murder warrant out of Texas within an hour.
"When the live scan is done, it is sent electronically to the Georgia Crime Information Center in Atlanta where it's checked to be sure the person hasn't been arrested under another name elsewhere," Jackson said. "From there, the prints are sent to the National Crime Information Center in Virginia which checks to see if they've been arrested anywhere in the U.S."
Jackson said the jail will conduct an average of 10 live scans a day, but on court day, the number can reach 20.
"The fingerprint card starts the process for everything that happens to someone in the criminal justice process," Jackson said.
Jackson has been with the Criminal Investigative Division since 1996 after the election of Ashley Paulk in the early 90's and the move to technology.
"Until 1993, we were a sleepy little sheriff's town with no technology and everything done on paper," Jackson said. "Ashley Paulk began seizing drug funds and we moved into the 21st century. We've got equipment here they don't have in Atlanta."
Jackson and Eric Bramble work in a 12-by-20 foot room housed between the jail and the administrative offices. Through another door is the lab where the evidence for 14 cases is labeled and being processed.
There are two pieces of equipment that perform the same function, but one is homemade and the other is worth several thousand dollars. Jackson explained that fingerprint evidence can be "glued" where it is more clearly visible. In the first room, a fish aquarium sitting upright on the counter has a coffee cup warmer in the bottom and a makeshift door. However, Jackson said that within 10 minutes of heating super glue in a piece of foil on the warmer, fingerprints that may not have been visible become "glued" to the object from the vapors of the heated glue. While the aquarium can handle smaller objects in a shorter length of time, the other machine can do larger items like firearms in 40 minutes.
Digital cameras have been used by the LCSO since 1999. Jackson and Bramble use $30,000 of digital imaging equipment that allows them to enhance fingerprints. They also catalog all crime scene photos in the computer also.
"When we can't get enough detail, this allows us to get more detail than the eye can see, but it doesn't change it," Jackson said.
Another computer aids in "drawing" suspect composites. The computer allows the technicians to choose from a large selection of features that includes eyes, nose, mouth and hair. Then the image is compared to pictures of criminals in the database.
One regular gadget seen on "CSI" is the light that illuminates blood and other items. Jackson said they call theirs the $9,000 flashlight. He said the light uses the blue spectrum most often which illuminates fingerprints, blood and other body fluids that may be missed by the naked eye under regular light. They also have the machine that allows them to compare items for a match -- like the ends of wire or duct tape.
Jackson and Bramble are the first to process a crime scene and say they are the neutral observers. They let the evidence speak for itself.
"We're not pro-arrest or pro turn-them-loose," Jackson said. "We're neutral in the investigation. We tell (investigators), 'This is what we see and this is what we've got. It's up to you to do something with it.'"
Jackson said the evidence "speaks" when he and Eric enter a crime scene. They are the human factor that is needed to operate the equipment.
"When Eric and I go to process the scene, we try and determine what happened based on what we see," Jackson said. "The evidence will talk to you. You have to know how to listen to it and let it tell you what happened."
To contact Tanya B. O'Berry, please call 244-3400, ext. 239.