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Lights reveal dim evidence

Gadgets help drug task force

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SHREWSBURY- Police Detective Lt. James J. Hurley placed a postage-stamp-sized piece of a magazine page on a table. To the naked eye, nothing appears to be special about the scrap of paper.

But with a flick of a light switch, Lt. Hurley prepares to show that there is hidden information on the magazine scrap.

Holding what appears to be a flashlight, Lt. Hurley shines a blue light on the paper. The light reveals an almost ghostlike glow of a fingerprint. To illuminate the fingerprint, the magazine was dusted with a fluorescent powder. A special pair of ultraviolet goggles isolates the fingerprint even more. If this were a piece of evidence from a crime scene, the fingerprint would be taken to a nearby lab, Lt. Hurley said.

The flashlight used by Lt. Hurley is called a Crime-lite, manufactured by Foster and Freeman Ltd. The set of "alternative light sources" help investigators find hidden evidence at crime scenes, Lt. Hurley said.

"They pick up any real type of trace evidence," Lt. Hurley said, citing hair, saliva, fingerprints, blood and gunshot residue as examples. "Basically these are good for picking up evidence that isn't visible to the naked eye."

Two Crime-lite kits, costing $5,000 each, were purchased by the Regional Drug and Counter Crime Task Force, headquartered at the Shrewsbury Police Department. The task force used grants and money generated from drug-dealer assets to pay for the equipment, Lt. Hurley said.

There are five Crime-lites in each kit. The lights, in various colors, work by using different wave lengths of light. For example, the blue Crime-lite is good for finding body fluid, according to the company Web site. Each kit also comes with goggles that help investigators see the evidence more easily.

When Lt. Hurley used the light, which is about the size of a standard flashlight, to find the fingerprint, he could also have photographed it by using special lenses in the kit. The camera lenses work on the same principle as the Crime-lite.

Although the lights can be used to find blood, Lt. Hurley pointed out that blood absorbs light, so instead of appearing bright, blood would show up as dark spots.

One set of the lights will be kept in the Regional Drug and Counter Crime Task Force's crime scene trailer. The other will probably go to the Sterling Police Department, another member of the task force, Lt. Hurley said.

The task force has 12 members: Shrewsbury, Westboro, Northboro, Southboro, Sterling, Auburn, Millbury, Spencer, Boylston, Holden, West Boylston and the Worcester County sheriff's office.

"We really have kind of a unique setup because it doesn't cost an agency anything to join," Lt. Hurley said. "A lot of agencies have a fee to join," he said, adding that there are 26 such task forces in the state.

The Regional Drug and Counter Crime Task Force is a "pay-as-you-go" service, Lt. Hurley said. If a member needs the services of detectives from the task force, he said, it is responsible for hourly and overtime pay, if overtime should be needed, on a case.

Grant money helps pay for half of the overtime pay and the task force member pays the rest. The task force receives $65,000 a year through a federal grant administered by the state, Lt. Hurley said.

"The equipment is the big plus," he said. "To go out and buy a $5,000 piece of equipment for one agency is difficult. When 12 agencies get together, they can buy and share the equipment, and we were able to go get two."

Any task force member can use the crime scene trailer and the equipment on board, if needed. Personnel are also available, but Lt. Hurley made it clear that the local agency heads the investigation and task force members lend support.

"Bank robberies are a classic example where we have seen some benefits," he said. Five detectives can show up at a bank robbery scene, process evidence, interview witnesses and canvass the area, Lt. Hurley said. The ability to bring several investigators on scene quickly allows for a faster investigation, he said.
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