When a crime occurs in Philadelphia, police must determine who committed it so that the criminal can be prosecuted and brought to justice. But investigating a crime in Philadelphia can be very different from what you see on TV and in the movies.
Depending on whether the crime is in progress or has already been committed, officers may take very different approaches to tracking down the culprit.
Here's a brief overview of the basics of the criminal investigation process:
Crimes in Progress
When Philadelphia police receive a call that a crime is in progress, they will send police officers to the scene as quickly as possible.
Ideally, the officers can get there in time and catch the criminal red-handed. Other times, the police may have to give chase to a fleeing suspect. But once police apprehend and arrest a suspect, they will typically take that person to jail or the police station for booking. This is where the alleged criminal's personal information is recorded, fingerprints are taken, and the details of the crime are recorded.
Before leaving the scene of the crime, police will often also perform a site investigation by taking pictures and collecting any objects they think are connected to the crime for evidence. Almost everyone who was at the scene will write a report, including their personal observations, the names and contact information of any potential witnesses, and any items that they took from the scene.
Unfortunately, police often have to deal with crimes that have already occurred. This can include a crime that happened just an hour ago, or a cold case from many years past.
If a crime was not observed in progress and was particularly serious or complicated like a murder, then the case may get assigned to a detective. The detective will then manage a team of investigators to develop a list of suspects and find the actual culprit.
The detective may collect forensic evidence like fingerprints, blood, or saliva found at the scene, and send them to labs for analysis. The detective can also speak to witnesses to try to piece together what happened.
Regardless of whether the crime is ongoing or occurred in the past, police must obey the Fourth Amendment's rules for permissible searches and seizures. This means that generally, if the police want to search any private property, they must first obtain a warrant which shows that they have probable cause to believe that they will find evidence that will help solve the crime.
If you have any questions about a police criminal investigation and whether any of your rights were violated, you should talk to an experienced attorney.
- Criminal Law Overview (FindLaw)
- What Happens When You're Charged with a Crime (FindLaw)
- 5 Ways the Constitution Protects Criminal Defendants (FindLaw's Philadelphia Criminal Law News)