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Crime Scene Investigation? There’s an App for That

Longtime Lecturer Creates Mobile Solution to Help Law Enforcement Avoid Critical Sleuthing Errors

By Sara Gavin

Thomas P. Mauriello portrait

Photo courtesy of Thomas P. Mauriello

Thomas Mauriello, a criminology and criminal justice senior lecturer, has created a new mobile app designed to help investigators avoid errors by guiding them step by step as they work at the scene of a crime.

Well-known at UMD for his dollhouse murder dioramas that draw a crowd on Maryland Day and the popular “Introduction to Criminalistics” course he’s taught for 43 years, Thomas Mauriello has made a career of meticulously picking apart crime scenes and investigations. Now, he’s channeling his decades of experience in law enforcement, counterintelligence and education into a mobile application for industry professionals called CSI Checklist.

“There are so many things going on and so much to keep track of at a crime scene and once you’ve left it, you can never go back to the way it was when you first discovered it,” Mauriello said. “The checklist is a way to jog a person’s memory about what steps to take and in what order.”

Mauriello knows all too well how often investigations don’t follow proper procedures. His background as a former police officer (including for the University of Maryland Police Department in the 1970s), criminal investigator, special agent and author make him a sought-after forensic consultant routinely called to testify in court about missteps made during the investigative process. The most common mistakes, he said, include failures to establish the perimeters of a crime scene, to document who is coming and going from the scene, and to collect and transport evidence in accordance with rules of evidence. 

Mauriello began formulating CSI Checklist three years ago under the umbrella of his private consulting company, ForensIQ Inc., when he realized nothing like it was available. The app provides a series of bulleted checklists designed to help both new and veteran law enforcement agents go through the steps necessary to secure a scene, collect evidence and conduct a thorough investigation for any kind of crime, from burglary to arson to discovering human remains. 

“Many police officers could spend the majority of their careers never investigating crimes like rape or murder, but the one time they have to do it, it may be 3 in the morning and their training won’t necessarily come back to them right away,” Mauriello said. “Even seasoned investigators sometimes tend to get lackadaisical when they do things over and over again and they forget or overlook things that are important. The checklist has all the steps that should be taken and forces you to do it properly.”

He based the checklist items included in the app on national standards and protocols developed by the U.S. Department of Justice and his years of experience in the business. He said the inspiration came in part from reading about how the medical and aviation industries started using checklists to reduce accidents caused by medical professionals and pilots not following proper procedures.

Once a member of law enforcement has utilized CSI Checklist, a report listing what steps were checked off can be shared with other professionals involved in the investigation, such as supervisors, evidence technicians and forensic scientists. Mauriello said legal professionals charged with examining how investigations are accomplished would also find the app useful.

“For cases to be won or lost, all players on both sides of the adversarial process need to be aware of each other’s actions and responsibilities,” he said. “CSI Checklist provides guidance for the criminal justice professional to do it right and for the adversary to know when it wasn’t.”

Mauriello has been meeting with police departments in the DMV region to give them an advanced look at CSI Checklist and to get feedback, which he said has been very positive so far. The app is available to download free on Apple and Android devices, then starting in 2021 will cost approximately $7.99 for a yearly subscription.

As he contemplates retirement in the next few years, he admitted that if CSI Checklist proves successful and departments across the country start using it regularly, he might be putting himself out of business as a forensic consultant. That’s sort of the point.

“It would be the culmination of what we do as faculty, which is educate. I educate at least 72 students every semester, but if I could educate thousands of people through an app, that’s very powerful.”

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