Rod Spencer has mixed feelings about the TV phenom CSI. It’s great in that it has inspired a whole new generation of young people to do forensic work. His classes at Humber
College in Toronto, which are part of the Police Foundations program, are full.
But the 63-year-old former police officer isn’t as keen on how the show plays fast and loose with science (there’s often a nugget of truth in what they do, but little more) and makes death seem glamourous. “Real life isn’t like that. Seeing somebody murdered isn’t sexy.”
Spencer himself was drawn to police work as a young man because of his father, who was a cop in their hometown of Garson, just outside Sudbury, Ont. “He was an honourable man, I suppose I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
He moved to Toronto after high school and applied to the police force. He was accepted — the process was less competitive and stringent than today, and all you needed was good eyesight, good morals and some references — went to the Toronto Police College, and got to work.
He did a few jobs on the force, and soon became a first-class constable. As a hobby, he began doing photography. That helped him get a job in forensics.
After being hired by the crime scene team, he was sent back to college for training, then began photographing crime scenes, making moulds of shoe prints, analyzing blood spatters and doing lab work such as comparing fingerprints.
The job alternates between field and lab work. Some crime scenes, like a break and enter, take less than an hour to investigate. But a homicide can take weeks of work on the scene, and then many more following up in the lab.
Some cases end up in court, and that takes preparation and an ability to explain yourself clearly so a jury can understand.
Spencer later got promoted to homicide, and then became superintendent.
Now, he teaches at Humber, using the school’s new forensics lab, leading them through simulated investigations and even participating in mock trials.
Spencer also does forensic work as a freelancer. He doesn’t visit crime scenes much anymore, but he consults with lawyers and private investigators abut how to understand and utilize forensic evidence for their own cases and investigations.