A ‘CSI effect’ is leading to more women in forensic science

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INDIANAPOLIS– Data shows more females are getting into forensic sciences.

This may be a result of the “CSI effect,” in which true crime shows and podcasts are peaking people’s interest in the industry.

ISP’s only female CSI

Indiana State Police (ISP) Sgt. Amy Gaul has been with the department for 25 years. ISP has dozens of crime scene investigators scattered throughout the state, but Gaul is the only female. She told CBS4 what led her into a law enforcement career.

“When I was 10 years old, my Grandmother was raped and murdered in her own home,” she said. “The individual was arrested, prosecute and is still in prison to this day and that’s all because of the hard work of the policemen on that scene.”

Gaul said it wasn’t until she was already with state police that she considered become a crime scene investigator.

“I feel like there are times when the victim cannot speak for themselves and if that person is deceased, you have to be the person to speak for them and to at least give some sort of closure or a sense of justice to the family members that are still here,” she explained.

Gaul has responded to and investigated dozens of scenes, including the double murder out of Delphi, multiple officer-involved shootings and the car crash that claimed the life of an Indianapolis Colts player in 2018.

Once she arrives on scene, Sgt. Gaul documents what she sees and dusts for fingerprints. Sometimes, she is pressed for time because of incoming weather conditions.

Because she is so busy from start to finish, there is no time to be emotional about what she has witnessed.

“Sometimes when the cases you’re working involve the same ages as your children, it can hit you a little bit harder but I think I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing,” she said.

She is often one of the only women on scene. She said she has never had an issue with that because ISP officers have mutual respect for one another.

Sgt. Gaul is happy to hear that more women are getting into her line of work, but she warns that if it’s simply because people like what they see on TV, they may be misinformed.

“A crime scene investigator is not also the detective and the prosecutor,” she laughed. “It takes a team and it takes time.”

She recommends people get an internship or ride-along so they can talk with a current CSI about the good, the bad and the ugly. Often, investigators need a strong stomach. They face a lot of pressure while on the job and at home.

“We do work basic 9-5 hours,” she said. “But we are also on call 24/7 so you never know when your phone is going to ring. You always have to be cognizant of that. If you’re going to go out as a family, what vehicle do you take? Because if I have to leave, I need my truck with all of my equipment in it. If you’re going out to dinner, do you have a drink? Because if you get called, you know you can’t have alcohol in your system.”

Sgt. Gaul also pointed out that she rarely gets closure in a case. She does her job and turns over the evidence to the prosecutor and moves on.

More students are studying forensic science locally

IUPUI confirms it is, in fact, seeing more females taking forensic science classes.

“Within our program, we just grow! Every year, we’re growing,” Christine Piccard, director of the forensic science program, said.

As of 2020, 82 percent of IUPUI’s investigative science undergraduates were women.

“Every day you get to solve a puzzle,” Piccard said with passion. “I love what I do.”

Piccard said students are often surprised by what they find out in class.

“Often times, their first thoughts are ‘this is going to be like what’s on TV,’ and we jump into that pretty quickly. This isn’t what you see on TV,” she explained.

Piccard said the biggest differences between what people see on shows like CSI and NCIS is that investigations take longer than 45 minutes. She added things are a bit embellished.

“I remember watching this one episode where – and I couldn’t believe this – they were analyzing dog DNA, which you can do, but then they ran it through a database and a dog picture popped up. That just wouldn’t happen in real life,” she laughed.

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