FORT BELVOIR, Va. – “We’re about to cut his neck if you want to see that,” said Nathan Booth, a criminal investigator about to set up a crime scene.
Booth dipped a serrated blade into a paper cup filled with Halloween blood. The bare-foot dummy lay face down on the floor wearing an army combat uniform. Booth kneeled over the plastic body, bent low, pulled back on the dummy’s head and pressed the blade against the arched neck.
Then, in one sweeping motion, he flung his arm back, forcing the blood to splatter on the wall like the opening brushstroke of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Booth wore a white jump suit to protect his clothes, looking more like a Hannibal or Dexter replica than a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) special agent. The crime scene was a fake, but every detail was carefully orchestrated to appear as real as possible. Bullet holes were punched into the wall using a drill. Shell casings were dropped on the floor. Chairs and furniture were flipped over.
“That doesn’t look right,” another agent said, pointing down at the pool of blood beneath the dummy’s head. “The blood would have spurted out on the ground. Not just pooled there.”
These guys. They know their blood. They will insist on distinguishing between “spatter" and "splatter." Spatter is a noun, such as the spatter of blood on a surface. "Splatter” is a verb.
So Booth poured another cup then splashed it with a force, causing it to hit at an angle, spurting against the linoleum tiles to resemble arterial bleeding.
In about an hour, the scene was complete. Four dead dummies in one building. Now it was up to the rest of the agents to process the scene and figure out what happened. Processing a scene can take many long, tedious hours, even days, to complete, but these agents are in no rush.
“Hey, if it takes them all day, that’s fine,” said Special Agent Tanya Marlow, with the 75th Military Police Detachment, located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. She was one of the lead instructors for the crime scene investigation.
“Don’t let people rush you. We get a lot of pressure. Take as much time as you need because we’re the ones speaking for those victims. There’s nobody else who is going to do it. They’re deceased now. So we have to speak for them and deliver justice,” she said.
In another building nearby, the other half of the Criminal Investigation Command’s agents worked to negotiate with a “hostage taker” during intense training.
“Don’t take anything personal here. We’re going to embarrass you. We’re going to (tick) you off. We’re going to throw a lot of stuff at you that you haven’t seen before. We do that so we know what you’re capable of,” said Special Agent Stephen Hudson, who used to teach hostage negotiations at the military police schoolhouse and has three years of hostage negotiations experience. Now he is the assistant operations officer for the Washington CID Battalion.
These scenarios were part of a three-day training exercise called Capital Shield, an annual certification course focusing on crime-scene processing, evidence management and hostage negotiations, held at Fort Belvoir, Sept. 13-15. For the first time, the training included a group of U.S. Army Reserve special agents. It was also the first time any group of Army Reserve agents received training on evidence management.
“Handling evidence is not sexy, but it’s important. There’s no easier way to get fired as a CID agent than to mismanage evidence,” said Special Agent Donald Rackley, first sergeant of the 733rd Military Police Battalion (CID), which is an Army Reserve unit.
“(This) is huge for them. When they go on active duty, on orders, they become evidence custodians, they’ll understand exactly how to manage an evidence room,” he said.
The overall benefit to Army Reserve agents here was to improve their skills and grow relationships with their active duty counterparts.
“We want to have that bridge where if a CID agent from the Army Reserve deploys with an active duty unit, immediately he can pick up a case and work it,” said Rackley, who played the role of hostage taker for two days, leaving him emotionally spent.
As a civilian, Rackley works for the Washington CID Battalion, which hosts the Capital Shield CID exercise each year. The exercise also partnered with a Special Reaction Team (SRT) from the Military District of Washington. The SRT members provided a sniper and a response team during the hostage negotiation training. It was Rackley’s initiative that got his Army Reserve Soldiers involved this year.
“If we’re not building those relationships between the active duty and reserve components, what are we really (doing) in that fight?” said Rackley, whose reserve unit is located in Fort Gillem, Georgia.
“We have to be able to train (together). And if we can’t train with our active duty components, we’re really not learning how to do the mission, and we can’t really decide how we can best supplement and support them. That’s really what it comes down to,” he said.
A total of about 40 agents participated, including 15 from the U.S. Army Reserve. Even though the vast majority of these agents are U.S. Soldiers, they wear civilian clothes as their duty uniform, and they don’t introduce themselves by their rank. Field agents are either enlisted, warrant officers or civilians. Commissioned officers provide a support or command role at their headquarter locations.
CID investigates any felony-level crimes that have an Army nexus to it, said Rackley. Anything from dead Soldiers to sexual assault cases. Being in the military, these agents have a better understanding of the military scenarios they investigate.
“A lot of the added value comes from understanding the environment we operate in, and the way things work within the military,” said Special Agent Christian Cook, of the Fort Myer, Virginia, CID office.
Almost all of the Army Reserve CID agents have a civilian law enforcement background. They’re SWAT members, detectives, drug enforcement agents, police officers, and the list goes on. But the Army investigative world requires them to operate a certain way. That’s why it’s vital for them to train with their active duty counterparts, so they can share best practices and learn how to work together either on an installation or while deployed.
“(When) I deployed to Afghanistan, I went by myself … If I hadn’t had that training set and hadn’t had that experience prior to getting on the ground, I would have been absolutely useless when I got there, because I wouldn’t understand how CID works in an active-duty field,” said Rackley.
Capital Shield is also a broader training event involving federal, state and local law enforcement officers across the national capital region. However, this year, many of those offices are preparing for the upcoming presidential inauguration. The goal next year is to include the entire law enforcement community into Capital Shield scenarios.
“Next year, we will expand the exercise. We will use larger training areas, multiple buildings … a capstone, final exercise where they’ll be evaluated by observer/controllers and make it real world … MPs, first responders, EMTs, the whole nine yards,” said Rackley.
Also, there will be more Army Reserve agents involved. There are three CID battalions currently in the Army Reserve, belonging to the 200th Military Police Command. This year, only one battalion, the 733rd, participated.
Already, this reserve-active-duty training partnership has started off on a good note. It can only grow from there.
“I think it went fantastic. The feedback I got from a lot of the active duty CID agents was a lot of positive comments … (They) just conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism. I’m proud to be their first sergeant. I really am,” said Rackley.
For more information about CID visit: www.cid.army.mil