La Habra’s Community Service Officers are CSI champions.
Using their crime scene investigation training and analytical minds, the two officers process the majority of the crime scenes in La Habra, collecting DNA, fingerprints, and other types of evidence for examination.
The CSI program began in 2010 when CSO Ken Gustin and CSO Christina Nuñez received POST-certified (Peace Officer Standards and Training) instruction in crime scene investigation.
“It was just absolutely fascinating,” Nuñez said of the CSI classes.
Until then, the department contracted with nearby agencies for CSI services. But the wait time for someone to arrive to process a scene could be hours long, with victims unable to re-enter their home or business in the meantime.
Nuñez and Gustin’s training allowed the agency to eventually end its CSI contracts, saving both time and money on most cases. CSI for attempted homicide and homicide cases is handled by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s Crime Lab, Gustin said.
The two trained in every CSI class offered, including basic CSI, photography, tracking footprints, advanced fingerprinting, impressions, and collecting DNA evidence.
“One of the first things I got to do was a recovery on a stolen vehicle after I had taken the first set of classes,” Nuñez said. “I thought, ‘I wonder if this really works.’ So, I swabbed the steering wheel, the gear shift, and the inside of the door handle. I was shocked when they said, ‘We’ve got a hit from your swabs.’ I was kind of excited about that.”
Gustin, who’s been a CSO at La Habra for more than 10 years, was a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy for more than 9 years before joining the La Habra Police Department. He and Nuñez are currently training two additional CSOs.
“Most of our days are spent with investigating traffic collisions,” Gustin said. “She and I are the only two that investigate our hit-and-runs.”
Traffic collision investigations also require CSI work, Gustin said.
For example, he said, “In hit and run investigations, a lot of times the registered owner is not the one driving… We look for paperwork, receipts etc. in the car that could identify who may have been driving and if the airbags have been deployed we collect those on the off chance that the driver may have left DNA behind.”
Gustin and Nuñez are always ready to roll, with their police vehicles full of CSI equipment, including a ladder, fingerprint kit, professional camera and flash, flashlights, envelopes for collecting DNA, numbered placards to mark crime scene evidence, a first aid kid, crime scene tape, a notebook for collecting elimination fingerprints, and a tape roller that measures distance between pieces of evidence.
Besides accident investigations they also handle quite a few CSI calls involving commercial and residential burglaries, Gustin said.
“We’re… taking photos, we look and see if there’s any fingerprints at point of entry,” Gustin said. “If there’s any blood, obviously we’re going to collect that for evidence.”
It can be difficult finding evidence at residential burglary scenes, Nuñez said, because the more people that live in the home, the more difficult it is to pull out foreign fingerprints or DNA. Nonetheless, Gustin and Nuñez have had several lucky finds: one burglar left his water bottle on a window ledge, another left blood on a broken window shard, and in yet another case the burglar left behind pieces of a torn glove.
“I collected all the little pieces and of course they’re going to get DNA,” Nuñez said. “My favorite part of the job is getting hits from the evidence that I think is really good, really strong.”