Six@Six lecture compares forensic TV to real-life crime

Seats quickly filled on March 21, at the Behringer- Crawford Museum in Covington, Ky.  as a sold out crowd gathered for NKU professor and law enforcement expert Jill Shelley’s lecture on determining how to approach fact and fiction in real world forensic science.

The event was sponsored by The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement.

The rise in TV police and crime dramas over the last three decades, including series such as “Law & Order” and “CSI,” have peaked the public’s interest in this topic. Shelley admitted that though forensic science is something she is passionate about, she “sometimes hates to watch it on TV.”

Viewers may not always realize what is real and what is fiction when it comes to investigative dramas. In reality, those tight fitting pants and busty tops are not the usual apparel for crime specialists and police.

Most of what is seen on TV “are actual techniques” that are used in real world crime labs, Shelley said, but those practices tend to be skewed in order to make the shows more stimulating and of higher interest to viewers. Shelley explained various myths that are often mistaken by viewers of investigative dramas, clarifying them with opposing facts.

Shelley mentioned the importance of separating TV fantasy with reality; although investigative dramas keep audiences at the edge of their seat, the methods and approaches differ from those actually used in everyday forensic analysis.

Nearing the end of the lecture, Shelley involved the crowd by demonstrating fingerprinting techniques, explaining the importance of the creation of DNA testing for forensic investigations.

Before DNA testing, it was up to blood and hair follicles to determine what would be considered “class evidence.” Serological, otherwise known as plasma and bodily liquids, typing could only narrow down evidence pinpointing a limited number of suspects.

After DNA testing came into play, there was a rise in the amount and accuracy of criminals being brought to justice based on fingerprints. Shelley explained that there is still plenty of room for error when testing is conducted. There are always new methods being discovered.

Following the lecture, audience members were able to test their own prints, seeing firsthand how different forensic techniques are used. Although all of their personal information did not appear on a computer screen as often seen on TV, the forensic truth was revealed within the inked lines of individuality.

Law Enforcement Expert and NKU Professor Jill Shelley Exposure of the Truth: Myths and Facts:



Select few characters are able to complete all types of specialized analysis, creating “superior” figures.

In real crime labs it takes many people to be able to investigate fully.

Every piece of evidence appears perfectly and is easily definable.

In most cases evidence is far from perfect or easily definable. Things aren’t always as clear as they appear to be on TV.

The analysis of evidence appears to be fast and simple; often times gathered in a matter of moments.

It can take weeks, months, or even a year to analyze evidence accurately.

Forensic investigators and police often allow citizens not involved in the investigation to enter and exit the crime scene as they please.

The crime scene is a restricted area only open to police and appointed investigators.

Police, investigators and scientist are permitted to bend the rules when necessary, not always following the law.

Investigations are strictly conducted and must abide by every appointed law.

All crimes are solved and all criminals are brought to justice.

Several crimes are left unsolved, which allows for certain criminals to continue their lives openly in the public eye.