Forensics: The Real CSI - DS Andy McDonald
"I like the challenge of each case. For one investigation I spent almost 3,000 hours viewing CCTV and helping prepare material for a trial, but it was worthwhile as we got a conviction. If you look at most of our investigations now CCTV has an important role and provides vital evidence."
Detective Sergeant Andy McDonald heads up our homicide unit’s CCTV team which is tasked with obtaining and trawling through footage in the aftermath of a serious crime.
They will scour the immediate area for possible cameras - belonging to businesses, council or connected to homes - and typically see if they can establish the actions and movements of a potential suspect or vehicles involved.
Andy became part of the team almost 10 years ago and helped to harness the 'massive opportunities' that CCTV offers, with it now proving central to most murder enquiries.
The 44-year-old said: "With all the CCTV cameras across the region now we can utilise lots of footage to help tell the story of what has happened.
"Years ago it was quite common to have footage of lower quality, but over time that has changed.
"In most cases CCTV is one of the most important aspects, it’s factual evidence. It tells you when someone was at a location and at what time.
"Depending on where the offence occurred it can be captured on camera which will be the key evidence."
The determination and eye for detail can be crucial when examining footage where clues are not obvious. On occasions it can just be a silhouette of a suspect which is immediately obtained.
However, by searching through an array of cameras means officers can track them over a significant distance with a view to make a positive identification.
"I remember after a fatal stabbing we were able to piece together the full movements of a suspect for miles afterwards. We traced him going from bus to bus all the way to his home address. He ended up being convicted of murder.
"No footage is ever worthless as, used in combination with other footage, it can potentially help the investigation.
"For us, not being captured on camera can be just as evidential in some cases as it can rule out a direction of travel and ensure focus is moved elsewhere."
Andy initially moved to the homicide department in 2011 having started off as a response officer 10 years earlier. Although he’d spent the majority of his time within CID and working on offences such as robbery and burglary.
"I came over to the homicide team as part of an attachment and I was quickly absorbed in the work, dealing with the most serious cases.
"Very early on I was asked to co-ordinate looking into the wider CCTV for a case. It was during this steep learning curve where I realised what massive opportunities there were with CCTV.
"Over the years officers on the department have all helped in developing ways of working, or best practice, to try and make sure that we always maximise the evidential possibilities CCTV can bring. CCTV evidence in combination with other forms of evidence, such as forensics and phones, can result in a very strong prosecution case."
The role can prove painstaking analysis but it’s what Andy and his colleagues are willing to do.
CCTV is becoming so common that during a typical murder enquiry we seize footage from a range of between 80 to 500 locations. We can seize days’ worth of footage, meaning thousands of hours’ worth of material being recovered for a single case.
"For one investigation I spent almost 3,000 hours viewing CCTV and helping prepare material for a trial.
“I had to repeatedly review footage of silhouettes to track their movements in and out of the offence location. There was around 30 minutes which I saw over and over again to the point I knew every hand movement and gesture.
"A man ended up being jailed for life for this fatal shooting so the hard work which went in by everyone was certainly worthwhile.
"The long hours away from your family while doing the job can be difficult. But we have a great team and know the time needs to be invested to get the right result.
"It’s a very rewarding career and everyone has the same willingness and determination to play their part. It’s very satisfying to assist in catching someone, and bringing them to justice for such serious crimes."
Interested in joining the force? Here’s your chance as we’re recruiting! For details visit https://jobs.west-midlands.police.uk/