Behind the tape: A rare look into the world of a Portland crime scene investigator

Criminalist Jeff Shearer (KPTV)

A whole criminal case can hinge on the evidence Portland's crime scene investigators find. The group of highly specialized criminalists work relentlessly to uncover answers.

Fox 12 got a rare look behind the tape as we stepped into the world of Portland Police Criminalist Jeff Shearer.

Some days as a crime scene investigator can be mundane. Others, haunting. For Jeff Shearer this day falls somewhere in between.

Shearer began his day at a home in southeast Portland. The call came in as a robbery with a suspect in custody. His job now, is to collect all of the evidence in the case.

"There are some things I will tell you I don't collect and one of them is feces," said Shearer to the homeowner who answered the door.

He's not kidding and feces really was found on the garage floor of the southeast Portland home, left there by a man high on drugs. Police say he broke in while the family was asleep and made himself at home in the kitchen.

The homeowner says she walked in on him there, wearing her husband's clothes.

"He was drinking milk out of this carton when I first saw him, he took stuff out of the compost, he ate a bunch of bananas," said the homeowner who asked Fox 12 not to be identified.

When police got there, they found that man hiding in the garage and brought him to the hospital.

"This is definitely a strange one," said Shearer. "One of the things I always try to do is think about how the crime was perpetrated, you know, how did the burglar get into the house. I need to get in that perspective of what they touched."

He takes photos of everything, but bags only what he'll likely find fingerprints or DNA on. It's a tedious process, but one Shearer follows meticulously.

And it's like that on every call he goes on.

At a junk yard in north Portland, Shearer was asked to gather evidence from a car involved in a hit-and run accident.

"This is the stolen vehicle," said Shearer. "I will take the whole airbag, the part that would have deployed and rubbed against the driver's face."

Shearer also found a hatchet on the floor of the car and bagged that too.

Shearer is one of a dozen criminalists that work the tens of thousands of Portland police cases that come in year round. Everything from sex crimes to murder. Lately, he's noticed they've been working a lot of burglaries.

"My job is to be objective find evidence and see what it says," he said.

To do that, Shearer and the others will come back to the lab at central precinct. It's there where they test clothing for blood splatter and gunshot residue.

If they're looking to lift fingerprints, they'll use the super glue chamber.

"The first thing it does is raise the humidity," said Shearer.

Vapors of the glue react with the oils of a fingerprint to leave behind a white residue. The whole process takes about an hour.

"Sometimes finding the fingerprint is just the first step," said Shearer.

Unlike popular TV crime shows. Shearer says DNA evidence is preserved, but not always tested. It depends on the nature of the case and caseload in general. Clues aren't always conclusive and fingerprints don't always appear.

"You either find it, or you don't," said Shearer.

His work weighs on him without question.

"I've had things that I've seen that I didn't detach myself enough from and that can be very hard to deal with and they can affect you for some time," he said.

He gets through it all knowing the work he does is important.

"If you think about it, we have one chance to investigate the crime scene and do it right," said Shearer.

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