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Sunday, Dec 15, 2019

Capturing all angles of a crime scene

In his 15-year career, Singh, who is currently posted with the crime branch, has photographed at least 4,000 crime spots.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2019 14:28 IST
Anvit Srivastava
Anvit Srivastava
New Delhi
A crime scene photographer at work in New Delhi on Sunday.
A crime scene photographer at work in New Delhi on Sunday.(Sourced)

It was quite the grisly scene — a man, shot multiple times, lying in a pool of blood inside his bullet-riddled car on a busy market road in outer Delhi’s Narela. A team of policemen from the local police station was busy cordoning off the vehicle when two tall men, dressed in formals arrived, with cameras slung from both their shoulders. Cautiously, they took positions, aimed their cameras at the car and clicked away.

The two cameramen are assistant sub-inspector (ASI) Virender Singh and head constable Sanjay Kumar, who are part of the Delhi’s Police’s 60-member crime-scene photographers’ team that photograph everything from the untouched crime spot to important objects and documents associated with a crime. Until they are done documenting every inch of a crime spot, no one is allowed in —not even investigators. What they capture on their cameras plays an important role in the investigation and the trial of the case.

In his 15-year career, Singh, who is currently posted with the crime branch, has photographed at least 4,000 crime spots.

“We have captured everything —murder, robbery, fatal accidents, burglaries, thefts. We are the first at a crime spot. Our photographs ensure that a crime scene always remains alive; they help a judge to see how the untouched crime scene looked,” said Singh. “In cases of burglaries, forgery and thefts, we also click pictures of the related documents, break-in signs and ransacked almirahs.”

Gathering evidence

Investigators rely on these photographs for evidence. Therefore, these photographers capture every little detail of a crime scene.For example, a detailed picture of a gunshot wound on a man’s body may help investigators figure the direction and angle from which the bullet was fired.

“In case someone has been shot dead inside a room, we try and take pictures of the area from where the shot was possibly fired and also of the area where the bullet hit after piercing through the person. If the criminal flees the room with the bullet, leaving behind no evidence, the pictures give investigators a rough idea of the type of the bullet fired, the kind of pistol used and from what distance the bullet was fired. We click everything at a crime scene that may or may not be relevant to the case,” says Singh.

Once these photographers and the forensics experts are done with a crime spot, investigating officers take over. “We cannot return to the crime scene to capture anything that was missed earlier as it may have lost its originality,” he said.

However, the police photographers’ job is not done with taking pictures of the crime spot alone; they remain associated with a criminal case throughout the investigation and then prosecution.

“Crime- scene photography is not just about clicking pictures of bodies, weapons, or a ransacked house. We are even required to click pictures of the neighbourhood and the landmarks near a crime spot so that it can easily be located years after the crime, if required,” said Ganeshan, a senior Delhi Police photographers.

“As the investigation progresses, we also take pictures of fingerprints, hair strands, the blood samples and skin tissues picked up by forensic teams as pieces of evidence from the spot.”

Ganeshan, a veteran in the field, was one of the cameramen roped in to photograph the scene post-2001 terrorist attack on Parliament, Phoolan Devi murder, and the Delhi High Court blasts in 2011.“We also spend hours with doctors clicking pictures as they conduct the autopsy,” said Ganeshan.

But that’s not all. Sometimes, these photographers are even called to the courts during trials to testify that a particular picture was taken by them. In some cases, cross-examinations also follow.

Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, in-charge, Crime Scene Management Division,at Delhi government’s Forensic Science Laboratory ( FSL) believes that crime-scene photography plays a crucial role in reconstructing a crime scene. “It helps in cases of death by fall, where we need to prepare a dummy of the victim’s weight and build. Besides, it is a permanent record of a crime which is used during trial as most witnesses don’t remember minute details of the crime scene”.

The recurring nightmares

Ram Niwas, Ganeshan’s colleague, says that their work never makes for happy photographs or memories. There are crimes scenes that haunt them forever. In 1991, Niwas, says he photographed a putrefying unidentified body in Brar Square. “More than 28 years later, the reek of that decomposing body hits me whenever I visits a morgue.”

One case which is firmly etched in his memory is clicking pictures of the body of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated in 1991.

“Visiting spots where children are killed is very disturbing; it gives us nightmares involving our own family,” said Shiv Om Chauhan, another photographer with Delhi Police. Chauhan, presently attached with district crime team at Old Delhi railway station, has photographed as many as 5,000 crime spots.

Clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra says that a crime photographer’s job may lead to secondary trauma. “Someone who regularly visits crime spots might be affected just as much as the victim of the crime. I know of cases where war photographers were adversely affected due to their work. Sometimes, a sense of meaninglessness starts taking over them,” he said.

These photographers say, roughly, there are 2-3 cases of suicides, accidents or robbery almost every day in Delhi.

“Photographing an accident scene at a railway line affects us deeply as it often involves severely mutilated bodies. We do not discuss our work at home as it affects our families too. At times, we also take pictures with our phone, so we keep them out of the reach of our children,” he says.

Their work timings are odd and flashbacks from crime scenes they visit often haunt them. “While I have not heard of a colleague taking anti-depressants to cope, but some of them do take medicines to avoid sleepless nights.”

All geared up

A police photographer’s kit consists of highly advanced cameras, colour filters, measuring scales, infrared and ultraviolet lights, gloves and masks.

“Colour filters play a major role while clicking a crime scene. For example, if we find fingerprints on a red surface, it might not appear very clear in the pictures. This is when the filters help. If the surface is red, we use a red colour filter. This cuts the red colour from the background and we get a clear picture of the fingerprint,” said Sanjay Kumar, 50, a police photographer since 2006.

“The infrared lights are used to find fingerprints on surfaces where they are not visible with the naked eye,” he said. Another most important tool for these police photographers, is a measuring scale, as no picture is considered valid unless it has a ruler in it.

“Be it a bullet shell or a pistol, a knife, a fingerprint or a hair, anything found at the crime scene must be measured to give an idea of its size to the investigators. Whatever we click we place a scale next to it before taking the picture. This documents the size of the object,” Kumar added.

Ganeshan says that digital cameras have made their job easier, what with the freedom they provide to click as many pictures as they want. “Usually, at a suicide spot we click 20-30 pictures, around 50-60 at a murder spot and over 100 at encounter scene involving multiple deaths. With roll cameras, we had to keep changing the rolls after every 36 clicks.”

But the advancements in photography have not made black and white film cameras obsolete for them. “We still use them to click the fingerprints. The films are then developed in our forensic lab in Kamla Market,” said Ganeshan, who will retire from the service in a year and a half.

The making of a crime photographer

Each of Delhi’s 13 major policing districts has a crime team, which comprises 2-3 photographers. They work in shifts so that at least one of them is available round the clock.

Deputy commissioner of police (crime) Rajan Bhagat said crime photographers join the force as constables and are entitled to salaries and allowances according to their rank.Each of photographer undergo a six-month special training to qualify. “At present, a batch of 30 policemen is under training and they will soon be out in the field as photographers ,” said Bhagat.

During the classroom- training, they are taught how to photograph a crime spot while keeping it uncontaminated, how to use the equipment, and how to look for and capture minute details which may prove important in the investigation of a particular crime. “They are also trained in forensic labs in how to develop films, and particularly in taking pictures of fingerprints from the objects collected from a crime scene. Once the training is complete, these men are attached for about two months with their senior photographers. It is a practical training for them in the field,” said Bhagat.