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From Sherlock Holmes to CSI

February 2, 2014

Crime writer, investigator and forensic artist Robin Burcell will discuss From Sherlock Holmes to CSI at 2:00 pm on Sunday, February 9, at the Livermore Public Library Civic Center, 1188 S. Livermore Avenue.  There is no charge for this event.
Our expectations for solving crimes have changed significantly over the years—as it should have given advances made in technology the last few decades. Criminal investigators have gone from simple sleuthing a la Sherlock Holmes novels, to super sleuthing a la Gil Grissom from television’s CSI dramas. But which is real and which is fiction? Distinguishing the real from the fictional investigative techniques will make for a fascinating discussion.
Robin Burcell, a retired police officer and forensic artist, knows firsthand how crime scene investigation has changed over the years, both fictionally and in real life. In fact, she’s had to take this into account in her own novels, even changing plot points as new technology arises.  When Burcell’s first series set in San Francisco debuted, cell phones weren’t as commonplace as they are now and there were telephone booths found on every corner. Now that everyone carries a cell phone that doubles as a mini computer and camera, good luck finding a pay phone. But that’s the beauty of (pocket) technology -- people armed with cell phones suddenly become super-sleuths, sometimes without even knowing it.  Look at any crime scene that’s occurred where vast numbers of people have gathered (the Boston Marathon is one good example) and the resulting police requests for photographs and videos filmed at the crime scene. Valuable evidence is found from people doing what they do -- taking pictures with their cell phone. 
Sherlock Holmes would be amazed at using cell phone photos to solve a crime. A modern-day Holmes could spot a missed clue in a photo, or something out of place, and the next thing you know, he’s naming the suspect. And television CSI’s Gil Grissom would probably analyze the photos with a new tool that doesn’t yet exist, turning them into 3-D images, and find that key piece of evidence that nabs the killer. While some of the investigative tools on the CSI television franchise do exist, often the script writers are fabricating or enhancing technology for maximal visual impact. This makes for great TV, but not for great real-life courtroom testimony—at least from the prosecution standpoint.  Jurors have cut their sleuthing eyeteeth on watching television dramas, and believe that the court cases in real life should reflect what they’ve learned on TV. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: The CSI Effect. Prosecutors have had to step up their game, explaining to the jurors not only what is real and what is not, but also beefing up their evidence presentations to meet juror expectations.
This program is part of Livermore Reads Together 2014, a community-wide reading program featuring Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.   The community of Livermore is encouraged to join their neighbors by participating in the Livermore Reads Together events for children and adults during the month of February 2014.  Copies of books and event schedules are available at all Livermore Public Library locations.  Livermore Reads Together is generously sponsored by The Friends of the Livermore Library.