DISCOVER POLICING FROM A FORENSIC IDENTIFICATION OFFICER’S PERSPECTIVE Sandy Allary
As the North Bay Police Service joins police services across the province to celebrate Police Week this week, and in keeping with this year’s theme Discover Policing for Safer Communities, we invited our forensic identification officer, Sandy Allary, to share her work experiences with the public by answering the questions below.
When did you start working for the North Bay Police Service?
I was hired just over 27 years ago, mostly to work in records management. I made the move to the forensic unit about five years ago.
What attracted you to the job?
I was looking for a change, a new challenge. Forensic work represented an exciting new learning experience for me.
Why do you think you got the job?
I have a strong work ethic and a love of learning. From my many years with the police service, I also gained valuable knowledge of how things work and how people in different roles work with each other. I felt I was ready for what the work would involve and confident I had what it takes to do the job well.
Take us through a typical day in your role. What do you do?
I am one of the two forensic identification officers that make up our unit. The two of us share the workload that comes in at any time and on any day of the week. We each work 10-hour shifts, four days (or four evenings) per week. We’re also both on call during the hours when neither one of us is on duty. We are responsible for all the Forensic work done within North Bay and Callander. We usually start the day by looking into the incidents that may have occurred over the late evening hours when we are not on duty. Patrol officers will ask us to attend various crime scenes or they’ll bring in exhibits from scenes that require our attention. We’ll do fingerprint examinations, victim photography, photo line ups and more.
During the shift, we are always on standby for call-outs to the location of active investigations. We conduct full scene examinations of major incidents, such as violent crimes, robberies, home invasions, to name a few. We also go to break and enters, thefts, assaults, motor vehicle collisions and more. Sometimes we attend court to testify about the evidence we have gathered and processed.
What do you like about your job?
It’s a never-ending challenge. Every investigation is different. I really like how I’m constantly building on my knowledge. Every day offers an opportunity to learn new things. It’s really interesting work. It’s also rewarding when the evidence we collect is key to assisting in bringing a case together. It’s what forensic evidence is all about, finding that hidden piece of scientific evidence and bringing it to the surface. It may be DNA evidence, a connection to a fingerprint, or even handwriting analysis. The Forensic Unit is a strong part of the investigative team within the North Bay Police Service. It’s always a good feeling when the unit can play a positive role in these cases.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I’m often at scenes where victims or family members are present. They are sometimes traumatized by the events and are often very emotional. When I’m there to do my job, I have to focus on the task at hand. It’s sometimes a challenge to find the right balance between professionalism and showing compassion. We cannot get emotional at these scenes, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel compassion for those who are grieving.
Public safety is a shared responsibility. From your experience in your current role, what one safety message would you like to give to the public?
Lock your doors! I have found in many of the scene examinations, many times it’s learned the doors to the residence, garage and vehicles were not locked. It’s probably the number one advice I can give anyone.
What’s the one thing most people don’t know about your job?
People may not know that the North Bay Police Service is one of few police services whose Forensic Identification Unit is completely civilian. This means my partner and I are not police officers. Both of us attended Ontario Police College to become full-trained and certified forensic identification officers. We received the same training as police officers who are trained in the same role. When I attended my basic forensic training at the OPC in 2011, I was the only civilian in a class of 12 police officers.
I have another point I’d like to make. People will see our forensics van in North Bay and Callander and automatically assume someone has died. It’s not always the case. Yes, we do attend many home deaths, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re investigating a crime. We’re often on scene to assist in ruling out foul play.
What words of advice would you give a teenager or a young adult who is interested in exploring a career like yours?
I am an accredited forensic identification officers, as well as certified expert fingerprint examiner. In order to attend the Ontario Police College to receive the accredited training, you have to be a member of a police service. I would suggest a good start for those interested in a career in forensics is to study photography and science, as there is a chemical side of examinations as well. People often compare Forensic work to the television shows such as CSI Miami, New York, but in reality a show such as Forensic Files may be a better choice. The series is based on actually investigations and is more realistic than the fictional crime drama series that are out there.