FBI, Air Force meet to discuss hazardous evidence collection

An FBI hazardous evidence response team recently met with Air Force first responders to discuss methods for the collection and custody of hazardous evidence, the U.S. Air Force Academy said on Tuesday.

The team met with Air Force first responders on January 16 at the academy, which is based in Colorado. The FBI typically works alongside first responders from the Air Force Academy and Peterson Air Force Base during special events and can augment local responders in any event involving hazardous materials, such as terrorist attacks or chemical spills.

Since Air Force responders are usually the first to the scene of on-base incidents, they must ensure evidence is collected and transferred to the FBI with no contamination.

"If collecting is done improperly, or if the transfer of evidence is done improperly, it can compromise a criminal case," Melissa Tallman, an analyst on the FBI's Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force said.

Because the FBI will only take over an investigation if evidence shows an incident was terrorism-related, it is important that Air Force first responders know the proper procedure for ensuring evidence stays clean and gets transferred efficiently.

"We really want that clean handoff of evidence," Maj. Dave Oertli, the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense officer for the academy, said. "If our screening tools indicate a problem, we pull in the investigatory teams. The FBI labs have the capacity to confirm what our initial screenings have indicated, and that's of huge value to the Air Force."

Za Smith-Berthe, the leader for the FBI's hazardous evidence response team, said that when the FBI and Air Force work together, they are able to respond more quickly in the event of a terrorist attack.