How The FBI’s Evidence Response Team Put Its Tools To Work At Crime Scenes

Friday, October 22nd 2021, 4:48 pm
By: Brittany Toolis


Since early September, the national search for Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie has dominated headlines. The FBI confirmed Thursday that it found Laundrie's body in a Florida nature preserve.

FBI Evidence Response Team members are all trained at base level training across the country. Some can go further into a specific area of evidence collection. 

The FBI's Oklahoma City field office showed News 9 how it and members in other offices collect evidence and help solve crimes.

"The way we are set up right now today we can respond to and process about 99% of crime scenes," FBI supervisory special agent Robert Swarens.

The FBI's OKC Evidence Response Team goes out to cases under federal jurisdiction or when called in by a local agency for help. 

Before they collect a single fiber, Swarens said they have to think ahead.

"When we're pulling it, how did we get this? Where did we get it? Who got it? Who's going to bring it up in court? And what is a possible defense attorney going to ask?” Swarens said.

Processing the scene's environment is slow, painstaking work.

"A lot of what we do, we are digging half inch of soil in 80-degree weather,” an ERT member said. “Could take days if not weeks to process a crime scene." She added, "hairs, fibers, any bones, any small bones, any jewelry anything like that."

Team members comb through every inch to look for, blood, DNA, and any kind of print from finger to tire to shoe. They're all breadcrumbs that can lead them in the right direction and can even be collected in the dark.

"We can go in there and use filters and it will make the hairs and fibers fluoresce," the team member said.

Anything collected then gets sent off to a local or the FBI lab in Quantico.

"They have a database for almost everything that you can imagine,” the ERT member said.

Every type of car paint, tires, shoes and even pen ink ever made are included. Manufacturers send them to the database each time a new model comes out. 

ERT members also have full time jobs within the FBI. Evidence collection is an extra responsibility employees can be trained for.

"But it's because there's a victim, and we want that victim to be taken care of," Swarens said.

Swarens said the most important tool the FBI has is the other law enforcement, medical and academic partnerships they have and use with almost every investigation.