It’s not “NCIS.” It’s not “CSI.” It’s BCSO.
Actually, it is the forensics division at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, and though it cannot process information quite like the …
It’s not “NCIS.” It’s not “CSI.” It’s BCSO.
Actually, it is the forensics division at the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, and though it cannot process information quite like the TV shows, it is a very important part of criminal investigations in the community.
Monica Datz and Laura Lane of the forensics division, work out of the Bradley County Justice Center in a lab located near the area where detectives have their offices.
“They do embellish forensics work on television, because it is television, but it is very similar to what we do,” Datz said.
The crime lab at the Sheriff’s Office may have some new equipment, but the work done there is similar to what was first done back in the Dan Gilley era, when he served as sheriff.
“When Sheriff (Dan) Gilley started the crime lab, it started with Barry Tharp and Liz Pope,” she said. “Liz somehow found out I was working in Monroe County at the time. She called and asked if I would take a job here, and that’s how I got to Bradley County.”
Datz, originally from South Florida, worked in forensics there for 17 years before spending three years working in Monroe County, then came to the BCSO in October 2003.
“I actually fell into the job. I met someone in South Florida who was doing that, and he said just put your application in, and that’s how I got started,” Datz said. She has attended many schools, seminars and specialized training to hone her craft since first getting involved in forensics.
The difference between Datz and those forensics experts on TV is that she is not locked in a lab, but goes out and helps in the collection of evidence. This includes blood samples, fingerprints, bullet casings and, yes, bodies.
She works closely with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as the Bradley County Medical Examiner, District Attorney’s office and, when requested, the Cleveland Police Department.
“You have trace evidence to collect DNA, hairs and fibers which would fall into microanalysis,” she said. “As far as the DNA, I don’t actually analyze it, but I do collect it.”
She said the forensics division also helps in photographing crime scenes.
The DNA and other evidence is sent to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation lab in either Nashville or Knoxville.
Datz said she is called to collect evidence from robberies and burglaries, and other crimes, and in most cases, if there is a death involved, the forensics division is called.
She stressed she has a job to do and, as a professional, cannot allow a crime or crime scene to be something she cannot get out of her mind.
“But it is tough, and it’s not something you get used to — it’s something you learn to deal with,” Datz said. “You learn to cope with it, and that may be a reason I do this job. You learn to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves when a death is involved.
Not only does Datz do her work in the lab and in collecting evidence, but she often is called into court to testify.
“I’ve been there many times,” she said of court appearances.
Datz said she gets a sense of accomplishment when her work leads to information that either convicts a guilty person, or exonerates an innocent individual.
“It is a good feeling. It is science — you just let the evidence take you where you need, and you just go with it,” she said.
Along with the lab, the forensics division also has use of a garage where vehicles that need analysis can be stored.
Sheriff Eric Watson said he is proud of the work done at the lab, which is under the direction of Capt. Steve Lawson.
“I am very proud of our Forensic Investigations Unit under the direction of Capt. Steve Lawson,” he said. “The Bradley County Sheriff’s Office is very fortunate to have Crime Scene Investigator Monica Datz and Deputy Laura Lane, because of their extensive training and years of experience in forensics. This unit plays a vital role in solving some of our criminal cases inside our community.”
Datz said she personally feels good when a case is complete.
“Many times, it means there is a criminal off the streets,” she said. “I like to feel safe and I like other people to feel safe. It is a good feeling to know that I have helped someone else.”
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