The Real Miami CSI
When Sharon Plotkin, M.S. enters a room, she owns it. Plotkin is a Certified Crime Scene Investigator with North Miami. In other words, she’s the Real Miami CSI. And after spending a day in her workshop, I can say with certainty that Sharon Plotkin is definitely more interesting and impressive than the cast of Miami CSI.
Plotkin gave a knockout presentation at a recent workshop that I attended. Titled “Be A Real CSI For A Day,” the eight hour seminar was held at the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs. The workshop was arranged by the Florida Writer’s Association, whose annual conference was being held in the hotel.
Designed to inform crime and mystery writers of proper forensic techniques, Plotkin, aided by her husband, Lieutenant Richard Spotts of Seminole Police, started the class by dispelling common myths popularized by shows like Miami CSI.
“Fingerprint results do come in quickly,” Plotkin said. “But DNA is a three step process that entails a serologist who verifies that the substance is blood before being passed on to a DNA analyst who analyzes the blood and a third person who confirms the analysis. So DNA results never come back the same day. That’s a Miami CSI fallacy.”
The workshop was hands on, and this included the bucket of horse blood that we got to dip our fingers and the soles of our shoes in, creating fingerprint trails and swipes on squares of ceramic flooring and footprint impressions on throw rugs. The pros and cons of Bluestar and Luminol—blood visualizing agents—were discussed and demonstrated.
The class learned, emphatically, that it’s blood spatter, not blood splatter. Guns carry live rounds, not bullets. By the way, bullets are called projectiles, and perpetrators are never called perps in the Real Miami CSI. Rather, they’re referred to as subjects, suspects, or offenders. Perps, it was decided, is an NYPD term. And Ballistics refers to the trajectory of bullets.
At times the workshop got a little gory. We were, after all, hands on with the blood. We also analyzed actual crime scenes as presented in the workshop manual, and some of these images were shocking, particularly those dealing with impact and blood spatter.
In the Real Miami CSI there are no high-heels, designer dresses, or expensive Hummers. North Miami crime scene investigators use old fashioned police vans and wear appropriate attire, including boots, tyvek gowns, and latex gloves. In fact, there is nothing glamorous about the Real Miami CSI.
Passionate and dedicated to her craft, Plotkin inspired the class, proving that fact is often more alluring than fiction. And to a crime writer like me, her lessons were invaluable, because there is nothing worse than a fiction writer who can’t get her facts right. We don’t have to read like law enforcement textbooks, but we better know the difference between spatter and splatter. And absolutely no DNA results in an hour. Leave that to Miami CSI.
The statement that left the biggest impact on me, spoken early in the day, summed up Plotkin’s mission accurately. “I don’t cry for victims,” she said. “And I have no trouble sleeping at night. What’s done is done. My role is to provide justice for the victim by reconstructing the crime that took their life.”
Patricia Bellomo is the author of four books, including her latest thriller and award winning novel: The Prince of Mafia Princes.
photo’s courtesy of Sharon Plotkin, M.S. CCSI – From Conference Workshop Manual
*Sharon Plotkin has a master’s degree in criminal justice and has received 1000s of hours of forensic training. She belongs to the American Academy of Forensic Science, Bloodstain Pattern Analysts and International Association for Identification. She is a faculty member at Miami Dade College and teaches law enforcement throughout the country. She is with the North Miami Police Department.