Drew Birtles - Forensic Scene Investigator
Drew Birtles is a forensic scene investigator and is one of the first professionals at the scene of a crime.
As a forensic investigator it’s his job to search a crime scene for DNA evidence, fingerprints and fibres. He could also be called upon to help the investigating officer establish what might have happened.
However, the 36-year-old didn’t have a conventional start to his career in forensics. He began working for WMP in the detained property stores in 2007.
And it was a chance conversation with someone from forensics that changed his career path.
Drew explains: “A forensic scene investigator needed to take an item out of the property stores to test. I was asking some questions while they were testing the item and I thought they were just ignoring me.
“When they had completed the task, they explained they couldn’t talk to me while they were testing in case the item became tainted, destroying any evidence.
“I thought ‘wow that’s amazing’, and knew then and there that I wanted to become a forensic scene investigator."
Drew began working part-time while he studied a forensic science degree at university and in 2013 he was successful in applying for a job in the forensic laboratories.
He gained valuable experience and became a forensic scene investigator after his second attempt.
He says: “I think I wasn’t successful when I applied the first time because I wasn’t myself. In this job you have to be able to talk to people and judge what they want from you - it’s not just about examining the scene for evidence."
And one job that stays with Drew is where an elderly man was burgled: “I’d been called to a house where the elderly man had been assaulted after two women forced their way in and stole money.
“He had Alzheimer’s and his whole house was labelled including his microwave dinner. All he wanted was some company. He couldn’t remember if he’d eaten that day so I made sure he was fed, had a cuppa with him and he asked me to stay and watch the TV with him for a while.
“It isn’t the most significant job I’ve been to forensically but I left that house feeling that I had done all I could do."
Drew is part of a team of 48 investigators who cover the whole of the West Midlands. They work shifts and are a 24/7 resource. During a typical day they can deal with up to eight jobs, clocking up over 100 miles.
As a forensic scene investigator he deals with anything from burglary to murder. He explained: “No two days are the same. I can be sent to a burglary or assault and then my next job could be a suicide or a major crime scene like a murder.
“The majority of my work is volume crime like burglary and car crime - it’s definitely not like what you see on the TV. I’ve been doing this job for two and half years now and in my opinion I’m not fully trained yet. I volunteer to support more experienced colleagues and co-ordinators at major crime scenes to gain experience and learn more."
It takes nine weeks of initial training to be able to examine a burglary and further on the job training including shadowing colleagues.
Drew gives this bit advice for anyone interested in pursuing a career as an FSI: “You need to know how to use a camera. It may sound silly but we use state of the art digital cameras all the time and they’re such an important part of the role.
“I’d say to anyone to get as much experience as you can, volunteer, do what you can to gain experience."
Think you’ve got what it takes to become a forensic scene investigator? We’ve created an interactive game on Facebook where you can become an investigator and help us Crack the Crime.
You can play the game through our Facebook page by following us at West Midlands Police.