Blood splatter, tyre tracks, DNA: How cops track our crooks
ACTING Sgt Wayne Boniface once spent three hours examining a plastic bag.
Exhausted and frustrated, but finally a breakthrough - a fingerprint found near the bag's handle which would lead directly to identifying the perpetrator behind a violent armed robbery.
It is stumbling across those key clues after hours of work that he, his scientific unit colleague Sgt Vanessa Lobegeier and their team live for, not just for their own job satisfaction, but to help the community.
"When you find that one thing … it's very rewarding," Sgt Lobegeier said.
"Everything you do is so meticulous and thorough and systematic so when you find it, it's good."
The tools in their science and crime scene arsenal are enough to make television crime show fans swoon.
They can analyse fingerprints, DNA, shoe impressions, blood splatter patterns, tyre tracks, tool marks and photos - among many others.
Often Sgt Boniface can be the first police face a victim of crime may meet when he arrives after a break-in or car theft to investigate.
"It's about giving hope by reuniting a widowed war veteran's wife with her deceased husband's WWII Service medals, to a parent who had their phone returned that contained all their family photos, to the single mum struggling to survive who, after having her car stolen then located and returned the same day, breaks down into tears in her carport," he said.
"From a single fingerprint we can give an investigator a name, a court, an offender and to a victim an end. For me this is what drives and motivates a forensic police officer."
Sgt Lobegeier said her favourite part of her job was that first assessment of a scene.
"You're absorbing everything and the first examination and analysis, and working through it," she said.
"You need to put things aside and look at it without any perception. The science behind it all cannot lie."
And while they are sworn police, their role is designed to be entirely independent, to the point where they can be called by either the prosecution or defence if a case goes to trial.
NOT FIRST CAREER CHOICE
From studying waterways to crime scenes, it has been something of a quirky career arc for Sergeant Vanessa Lobegeier.
With 16 years in the police, predominantly in Cairns, she is a virtual veteran of the scientific unit, but it was not her first plan.
"I was definitely interested in crime and seen a lot of the shows," she said.
But after graduating university with a science degree she initially became a hydrographer - measuring the health of the region's waterways.
In 2003 she changed tack and after graduating from the police academy she spent several years as both a general duties officer and in the tactical crime squad before switching back to science in 2011.
Her colleague, Acting Sergeant Wayne Boniface took a slightly different path, also completing a science degree with a major in archaeology before "struggling" with what to do.
He joined up in 2000, also enjoying a stint with the TCS before moving into the scenes of crime unit where he has been for 10 years, in both Townsville and Cairns.
He is also in the midst of studying to become a fingerprint expert.
"We have a pretty cool job," he said.
"We utilise all manner of brushes, powders, chemicals, laboratory equipment and recording equipment day in and day out to do our job. Our work takes us into urban environments and to remote locations where the soil hasn't seen a tyre track in years."
Originally published as Blood splatter, tyre tracks, DNA: How FNQ cops track our crooks