‘The CSI Effect’: Women flock to forensics after TV shows depict women in lead scientific roles

Real-life CSI investigator dispels the fiction and describes what it takes to do the job
Crime scene investigators examine the scene of a home where two bodies and an injured man were...
Crime scene investigators examine the scene of a home where two bodies and an injured man were found, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Las Vegas. Police are questioning a man covered in blood at the home where a 9-year-old boy told school officials his mother and sister were dead. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)(Julie Jacobson | AP)
Updated: Jan. 6, 2020 at 10:53 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Crime scene analysts are front and center in hit crime shows like CSI, uncovering evidence to solve the case.

But does real life match the TV shows?

19 News spoke with a local woman who knows what it takes to track down criminals.

CSI: Las Vegas is more than familiar to Northeast Ohio native Noreen Charlton.

She lived it herself--working for a decade as a senior crime scene analyst for Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.

“It’s nothing like TV, we worked very, very long hours. It’s not glamorous,” she said.

It may not be glamorous, but it's a job she loves.

“I was just really fascinated by jumping into the science end of that, and finding the fingerprints and finding the DNA,” Charlton said.

“The joke was always, ‘Alright, in 45 minutes are you going to have this solved?’ And we’d all just laugh it off, because it’s just not possible that way,” she said.

Charlton’s most high profile case was the Las Vegas music festival shooting two years ago, where a gunman opened fire from an elevated position at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.

“I worked throughout the night with the assistance and documentation of the deceased and the living victims,” she said.

“Then the following day I went to the hotel room to remove the suspect’s body,” she said.

It was a devastating attack that many first responders and investigators are still processing years later.

It takes thick skin to be a crime scene analyst.

“So I think when I was on scene and we were in the middle of it and when you're working you still have a job to do. I was able to shut that off really easily. It wasn't until I took a deep breath and I sat in my car getting ready to drive back to the lab, that it would all hit me and I'd have a moment,” Charlton said.

Now, Charlton is back home in Northeast Ohio with her family.

She worked as a civilian at Las Vegas Metro Police Department.

Since she's not a police officer, she can't process crime scenes here in Ohio.

So she started Case Files Crime Scene Consulting instead, working with police officers and attorneys.

“I still wanted to make a difference, and I still wanted to be someone a department could come to as an outside perspective,” Charlton said.

She said some crime scene experts don’t have experience in the field--and that’s what she brings to the table.

Las Vegas was so busy, she responded to all kinds of crime scenes.

“It's not black and white. So the books will say, if you have a certain circumstance, what you will find on the scene is this. But as I've gone out to all these crime scenes, which I have 4,000 under my belt at this point. But that's not always the case,” Charlton said.

“So if you're not going out and seeing how it really happens in real life, opposed to what the books tell you should happen in perfect circumstances, you may miss things,” she said.

In Las Vegas, Charlton worked with about 50 crime scene analysts.

She says it was female dominated, but most crime scenes were not.

“The majority of them were women, and it was great and it was empowering. But as a whole in law enforcement, it's male dominated. So I would go to a crime scene or a homicide investigation and I may be standing there with 50 people and look around and realize I am the only woman there,” she said.

She hopes more women continue to pursue forensic science, and studies show they’re doing just that.

Many call it the “CSI effect”--the TV show was the first to highlight women in lead scientific roles.

Nationwide, 78 percent of students in forensic science programs are female.

Charlton said there's nothing like helping solve a case and making a difference.

“It just hits you when you’re out of work mode, that this is people’s lives and this is what these families live with after it’s said and done, and that’s what it’s for,” she said.

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