THEIR work can help to catch even the most hardened of criminals.
You may have seen the crime scene unit's van driving through town, but do you know just what their work involves?
Ballarat crime scene services unit, comprised of a sergeant and 11 officers of other ranks, covers a huge geographical area including Ballarat, Moorabool, Golden Plains and Hepburn and responds to an average of 300 crime scenes each month, but sometimes it can be a lot more.
Joining the unit one Thursday morning, a number of incidents - including an excavator being stolen from a construction site and several Country Fire Authority sheds being broken into - were deemed to benefit from forensic examinations being conducted.
Each day, one police officer arrives early to triage the crime reports that have been lodged to decide which scenes will benefit from members of the crime desk attending.
Most of the crimes responded to are what is known as low value, high volume crime such as theft from vehicles, homes or businesses but occasionally the crime scene unit will respond to an armed robbery or sexual assault.
The unit, which splits into two teams each day, endeavours to attend a crime scene as soon as possible after the crime has occurred. If it is a car theft, for example, it is important that the scene is attended as soon as possible to ensure the car is reported as stolen.
Members of the crime scene unit are trained in fingerprinting, DNA collection, trace blood collection, blood pattern analysis and to take shoe impressions.
The unit's job is to go out to a scene, take photographs and collect evidence which is then passed on to forensic experts for analysis.
This evidence, such as DNA, fingerprints or other evidence like cigarette butts left at the scene of a crime, may help to convict a criminal during the court process.
I joined two of Victoria Police's seasoned police officers - the Ballarat crime scene unit's Leading Senior Constable Jeff Whittaker and Leading Senior Constable Dayna Mollison - on a road trip.
They have 63 years of policing experience between them both.
Leading Senior Constable Whittaker, who has been in the force for 33 years, was born and bred in Ballarat. He worked in Melbourne for a number of years before moving to Ballan - a four man station - for nine years before returning to the regional centre.
He joined the Ballarat crime scene unit when it was first established - one of the first in the state - in the city in 2006.
There are now 33 crime scene units across the state.
"It was a relatively new concept when I first heard of it and it seemed like a good change, a challenge," he said.
The biggest benefit of having a crime desk as part of a police station is that it is a "one stop shop" that can both process a scene and write a report. The unit is also able to attend many crime scenes, like thefts from cars, that may not have been attended in the past.
"Back before the crime desk started, the van would turn up and take the report, the detective would go and take the fingerprints and then an expert would lift and photograph them. There were three lots of police attend a scene, now it's much quicker because we can do it all," Leading Senior Constable Whittaker said.
Leading Senior Constable Mollison has worked as a police officer for 30 years. Moving from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, where she worked for 13 years, she has worked in Ballarat Crime Scene Services since 2011.
She said the crime scene unit and its work gathering evidence sped up the process of catching a criminal.
She thoroughly enjoys the scientific side of working in the unit and said that working general duties previously had given her a good insight into people's behaviour.
The role of the crime scene unit has grown over time and is continuing to, with its members now attending different types of crime scenes.
And with the new forensic hub, located at Ballarat West Police Station, the officers have a wealth of knowledge to draw on, especially from the two fingerprint experts who work there.
A lot of on-street crime occurs in Ballarat, with the highest crime being theft of and from motor vehicles, so it keeps the crime scene unit busy.
On the day of our ride along there had been break-ins at several rural Country Fire Authority sheds and so we set off to Wallindac and Rokewood Junction.
There was a spate of break-ins at CFA sheds in 2018 and then in the summer of 2019, with chainsaws, radios and larger equipment stolen from sheds across the region.
It is common that crimes come in waves. There was also recently was a spate of stealing back-up batteries from Telstra towers.
Upon arriving at a crime scene, the police officers first speak with the reporting person and then do a walk through of the location to determine where the criminals broke in and what has been moved, and therefore, touched. They also look for CCTV footage.
It is the second time that Wallinduc, a small brigade with a handful of members, has been burgled this year. This time they took a chainsaw, a tool box, two fuel cans and three wet weather jackets.
The robbery was discovered when one of the volunteers arrived at the shed to take the truck for a run.
Rokewood Junction was also robbed in the beginning of the year with another attempt about a month ago.
The criminals stole the fire truck's battery, with the theft only discovered when the volunteer firefighters rushed to the shed to attend a fire up the road, but could not start it.
THE FORENSIC EXAMINATION
At a crime scene there is always one police officer working as a note taker, who writes down what is observed and collected, while the other undertakes the forensic examination.
After taking many photos of the crime scene, including four corners of each room and of the fire truck, Leading Senior Constable Mollison donned her facemask and began looking for fingerprints.
Fingerprints are comprised of oil, fats and sweat in the skin, so, using a torch, which reveals any blood or fingerprints, she dusted promising locations at the crime scenes with powder and then cleaned several out, hoping for a clear print.
If lines show up they are subsequently developed and collected for analysis.
"It's an interesting science," Leading Senior Constable Mollison said. "It's not as easy as people think when they watch it on the telly."
Photos of prints are then taken before the fingerprints are lifted using tape and mounted on to a card.
The pair - who both did extra training and studied a diploma in forensic investigation to enter the unit - both enjoy working at the crime scene unit as every scene is different - a puzzle - that can help to solve a crime.
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