Behind the yellow tape

An investigation into the life of a crime scene detective


submitted photo

Story by Ashlyn Winters, staff writer

He walks into the EZ-Mart along with the camera that has seen of a million faces, to uncover the most heinous crime he has seen in his entire career. The case that haunts him to this very day, and remains in his darkest nightmares.

The case was of a young girl, 20 years of age, who was shot seven times by an 11-year-old boy. She was a true victim. Her whole life ahead of herself, going to college full-time, left covering the night shift.

Detective Eric Winters is a crime scene detective who works day and night solving crime scene cases in order to unveil the criminal, the evidence, and the cause. He has been a detective for over four years but was a street cop before transferring to that side of the police force.

“I enjoyed being a street cop, I liked helping people out. It wasn’t ever really about the arrest or writing a ticket, I wasn’t much of a ticket writer. I just enjoyed helping people out,” Winters said. “I can remember one time I got in trouble because it was the end of my shift and this old lady had a flat tire. She wasn’t from here and she was lost. I went to pay to get her a tire and get everything squared. It turned out that my supervisor had called me twice and told me that it was not my problem and that I needed to come in. It made me really angry because I was trying to help out this old lady. I’m a cop and it is my duty to serve and protect, I was trying to serve this lady. I miss that side of policing.”

Winters has been a detective for nearly three years. After transferring to the detective side from the patrol division, he was transferred to the forgery unit. This side dealt with theft and cyber crimes. He wasn’t able to cope with the technology requirements needed to fulfill the position, so he was sent to the crime scene division. Now Winters has a partner who, together, they work in criminal cases side by side.

“I have a very helpful partner. If I am on call and something comes up, [or] if there’s something important going on in my life, he is always eager to cover the call for me,” Winters said. “Right now the other detective is new and doesn’t have much experience, so I feel like there’s an expectation for me to step in and push myself, him, and our crime scene division to do a better job. I feel that pressure on me a lot more because I’ve got a lot more experience.”

Winters’ job is to take photographs of and collect evidence. Each situation presents itself with a different story. With there being a select few detectives who can respond to an active call, he is often called out at different times of the day to work a case.

“As I’m driving to the scene I kind of start throwing in my head what kind of call it is. ‘Is it a homicide, a suicide, a drowning?’,” Winters said. “Whatever the case is, I try to start throwing in my head what I need to do when I get there and what I need to look for. Each crime scene is different and there are particular items of evidence that I’m more focused on looking for.”

Each case he responds to, he takes a professional work camera along with him. On average, he takes about 300 photographs at each crime scene. After observing the crime scene and gathering the photos and evidence he needs, he goes to the lab to investigate each photo at a time. The evidence that was collected at the scene is packaged and sent to the main crime lab located in Little Rock, Arkansas, to be examined. Evidence is important for finding the person who committed the crime and proving them guilty in court.

“I feel like because of my position, I don’t contribute to the safety as I used to when I worked at patrol. Day in and day out they are working every shift, Winters said. “Back then, I felt like I was actually catching criminals, helping people, changing a tire for somebody or giving somebody directions. I felt like I was giving back. Now that I’m a crime scene investigator, I don’t feel like I contribute as well as I did back when I was in patrol.”

Unfortunately, a few cases have gone unsolved due to many factors which are known as “the perfect crime.” Either no evidence, DNA, or fingerprints were left behind.

“Looking at it in the way of catching a criminal and getting them off of the street, I do feel like I contribute in that sense. I recently worked a string of vehicle burglaries where a bunch of firearms were stolen,” Winters said. “We were able to get some fingerprints off one of the vehicles that linked back to a suspect. We were able to make an arrest, and we got him locked up, got him interviewed, and he admitted to over fifty vehicle burglaries. So I guess in a sense I do feel like I still contribute like I did at one time.”

Most crime scenes are a big puzzle. I enjoy trying to figure out the pieces and get the puzzle put together to bring some closure to the family of the victim.”

— Detective Eric Winters

Having such a demanding job has a huge effect on his personal life.

“It is tough, I think there are times where it has put me in bad moods. [I take] work home a lot, not physically but mentally.” Winters said. “You get a bad call or you work a bad scene and then it stays with you, it hardens you. Inside as far as your emotions, you see the negative side of the world so much that you’re not as sympathetic anymore.”      

Being that there are only a few detectives in Texarkana, Winters is always on call. There have been times where he has been called out in the middle of the night and he still has to go to work the next day after having no sleep the night before. He is also on call during holidays, so if he gets called out while he is out of town, he must rush back to Texarkana to the crime scene.

“It’s tough because one of us has to be here at all times,” Winters said. “There have been a couple of situations where during holiday weekends, both of us want to take off but we can’t do that, we need someone there at all times. There have even been some cases where we have needed a fourth or a fifth person but there’s only two of us.”

Being a crime scene detective is not to be taken lightly. It takes a very strong person who can handle difficult and haunting situations. Not only does the job affect the individual working, but it also affects their family. However, through thick and thin, Winters loves his job.

“Most crime scenes are a big puzzle,” Winters said. “I enjoy trying to figure out the pieces and get the puzzle put together to bring some closure to the family of the victim.”