One of the first things that struck him were the odd smells.
The vinegary smell of heroin, the metallic odor of blood, the unmistakable odor of a dead body.
“I’ll never forget that,” Raymond Frausto said of that last smell.
Frausto, 29, is a technician in the Evidence Control Section of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab, where he is among four techs who perform the critical tasks of receiving, logging, moving, tracking and releasing all evidence that comes into the lab.
He transferred to the lab about a year and a half ago from the county Department of Social Services.
It didn’t take him long to make an impression.
Frausto was voted the Property Officer of the Year by the OC chapter of the California Association of Property and Evidence (CAPE).
The association is made up of property and evidence officers from nearly every law enforcement agency in the county who meet quarterly as a way of networking and sharing information.
Frausto received the most votes among the candidates in the running for the title. All were nominated by their supervisors.
“What makes him unique is that he is very customer service-focused and very solution-focused,” said Frausto’s supervisor, Kim Brown. “He is calm and methodical (about) how he does things.”
The customers Brown is referring to are the law enforcement agencies throughout the county who show up daily with blood, urine, narcotics, clothing and even vehicles, just to name a few.
Frausto’s job involves making sure the correct evidence gets to the right unit in the lab for analysis and then returned to the right agency. He details every step in the evidence chain along the way.
If done incorrectly, the successful prosecution of a criminal case relying on blood evidence could be jeopardized.
“I just feel that it’s really interesting,” said Frausto of his responsibilities. “It really grabs my mind. Even though we do the same tasks, there are new things coming in … new challenges every day.”
Frausto said he had always had a desire to pursue a career in some aspect of law enforcement but wasn’t sure if he was qualified.
While working in Social Services, Frausto noticed the job listing for a property and evidence technician in the OCSD Crime Lab.
“When I looked at it, I thought this would be a great way to see if I could work in the law enforcement environment,” Frausto said. “I got the job.”
When asked what he had to learn to do the job, Frausto replied:
“Everything! It was a lot … just the terminology … the lingo …187 [the penal code for murder], I didn’t even know what that meant.”
Not even two years later, Frausto said he feels more plugged in, more connected.
“I see something on the news and I understand the story,” he said. “I get it. Before having this job, I didn’t.”
At the annual CAPE seminar, which takes place April 3-7 in Anaheim, Frausto will be in the running for the title of Property Officer of the Year for the entire state.
More about CAPE
The California Association of Property and Evidence encompasses nine chapters with more than 600 members of law enforcement statewide, sworn and non-sworn, who are tasked with the gathering, processing and preserving of criminal evidence.
The Orange County chapter of CAPE is made up of 80 members from 27 agencies who meet quarterly to network and exchange information.
“They compare cases and talk about how they can do their jobs better,” said Dominic Sarabia, president of CAPE’s OC chapter and an evidence control officer with the Los Alamitos Police Department for 28 years. “Maybe one agency is familiar with evidence that another agency is dealing with for the first time.”
Developing relationships with evidence technicians from other agencies makes it easier to pick up the phone and ask for help on particular cases, Sarabia said.
“On a cold call, if they don’t know, they might be a little reluctant,” he said.
Incorporated in 1989, CAPE has been recognized by the state and federal government as a leader in education, according to the organization’s website.
“They (all custodians of evidence) are incredibly hard-working folks who sometimes don’t get as much recognition as they should,” said Brown, supervisor of the Evidence Control Unit of the OC Crime Lab. “They are really the gate-keepers of all the property and evidence. They ensure evidence integrity, which benefits everyone.”
There also is a community service element of CAPE.
The OC chapter recently raised $1,600 for the City of Hope cancer center and $1,600 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as part of the Pink Patch Project, a national campaign in which public safety agencies sell pink versions of uniform patches and donate the money to cancer-related causes.
OC CAPE also donated gift cards, toys and supplies to the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families of sick children near the hospitals where they are being treated.