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Van from district attorney gives Clairton a new investigative tool

| Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, 4:31 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Clairton officer Matt McDanel logs evidence in the department's new mobile crime scene investigation van.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Clairton officer Matt McDanel lifts fingerprints from a CD case while working in the department's new mobile crime scene investigation van.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Clairton officer Matt McDanel adds a snack bag to a fuming chamber that uses cyanoacrylate to develop latent finerprints.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Clairton police Chief Rob Hoffman, Mayor Rich Lattanzi and Councilman John Lattanzi talk with officer Matt McDanel about the department's newest resource, a mobile crime scene investigation van.

Clairton Police Department is expanding its investigative resources with a crime scene response vehicle.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala's office donated the van to the department, which has two officers certified to collect and process evidence on site.

“One of the continuing goals throughout the course of my administration has been to ensure that law enforcement in Allegheny County is constantly receiving the best training and equipment that is available,” Zappala said.

“In this instance, being able to re-purpose this particular crime scene van in Clairton means that officers will be able to secure and preserve crime scenes immediately, which can ultimately result in higher quality evidence and stronger prosecutions.”

The donation already has proven its worth, police Chief Rob Hoffman said.

“By having an officer who is closely related to a case processing the evidence, we are seeing better statistics on arrests,” Hoffman said. “We've seen a decrease in burglaries in 2013, and with the ones we have seen, we've made a substantial amount of arrests.”

The city is less reliant on larger agencies that regularly travel to small towns to assist, even in minor investigations.

“The donation of this unit allows Clairton Police Department to be more self-sustaining, reducing the burden on other agencies that would otherwise have to come to Clairton,” Hoffman said.

County investigators still handle major, violent crimes in the city, but now Clairton police can manage thefts, burglaries and stolen vehicles themselves.

Officer Matt McDanel, who is certified to process evidence, said having the tools at the department's disposal allows for better investigations.

“You know the case better,” he said. “You know all the details. You know the ins and outs of the evidence you're looking at, and it makes you a better investigator.”

The van is equipped with the tools to collect fingerprints through traditional lifting techniques involving latent lift powder and tape, as well as a fuming chamber to develop prints with cyanoacrylate. There is a professional-grade camera to photograph each piece of evidence.

“We do more than just fingerprints,” McDanel said. “There's blood collection for DNA analysis, saliva collection, and items that can be submitted to crime labs for touch DNA.”

The expanded services are available to other Mon Valley departments and have been utilized by Glassport and Lincoln police.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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