COLUMBUS — According to Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, the role of the state agency responsible for much of the crime investigation in the state of Ohio may not be fully understood by most Ohioans.
“BCI is one of the best-kept secrets in state government, largely because in the publicity in a lot of the cases that we work on, the focus is at the local level, and our supporting role is not so obvious or front and center,” Cordray said.
The Ohio Bureau of Identification and Investigation, or BCI, is a statewide law enforcement agency which employs hundreds of investigators who work with local law enforcement agencies, providing specialized support and resources for crime investigation.
Cordray said BCI has three divisions. The first is the investigation division.
“We have investigators who go out and are at crime scenes,” he explained. “Sometimes they are executing search warrants and arrest warrants alongside local law enforcement.”
These criminal investigators can work anywhere in the state, according to Cordray. When a crime occurs, in order for BCI to join the investigation, it must be invited to do so by local law enforcement.
Cordray said this is in accordance with state law.
“We are what is called a ‘home rule’ state for law enforcement,” he said. “The state government is not a first-line law enforcement authority. There’s very few areas where the state attorney general has their own criminal authority.”
These areas include environmental enforcement, and health care and Medicare fraud.
Once assistance from BCI has been requested, investigators are sent to the scene based on the specialization required for a given investigation, as well as other factors.
“It might be a matter of expertise, it might be a matter of who is available,” Cordray said, adding that how far investigators are from the scene is also a consideration. “We try to minimize travel time and expense when we can.”
The second division of BCI is the one Ohioans may hear the most about: the evidence analysis division.
“This is where we process evidence that is forwarded to us from local law enforcement for analysis,” Cordray said.
This can be chemical analysis, DNA identification and matching, and other forensic testing.
Last year, BCI processed more than 25,000 different assignments and cases. Each of those cases typically has multiple items for forensic testing.
Cordray said the robotics and specialized computer analysis sometimes dramatized on television shows is not fiction, but the amount of time it takes for such analysis is often unrealistic on such shows.
“Those are all the things that we do, it’s just a lot slower than you see on TV,” Cordray said. “The difference is, what they do on TV is, they take out what’s done in the real world, and they take out the lengthy time elements, so there are things which take 60 minutes on TV that take months, and even years out in the real world.”
Time elements aside, Cordray said, the highly specialized tests performed at BCI facilities in London, Richfield and Bowling Green are “remarkably similar” to those seen on TV.
The identification division is the third and final division of BCI. This division performs thousands of background checks each year using the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway, which stores all kinds of criminal information. Cordray said OLEG focuses on Ohio information, but contains access to national databases.
Cordray said BCI provides many specialized resources to small, local law enforcement agencies, providing them with the same crime-solving capabilities as larger law enforcement agencies found in cities.
“BCI is sometimes described as the local FBI, but it is the main resource for a lot of local law enforcement around Ohio,” he said.
He said BCI was created in 1921 for the purpose of providing this resource support to small police departments and sheriff’s offices which did not have the resources, money or expertise to perform the new crime-solving techniques, which at that time included fingerprint analysis.
Fingerprint analysis is simple compared to the specialized forensic techniques used by the agency, which are constantly evolving, he said.
Cordray said the most specialized forensic testing in the world will not solve a crime without the most important resource in law enforcement, the investigators themselves.
“There’s a lot of the human element in police work and our folks are as experienced and trained at that as anybody in the state,” he said.
He said the higher degree of certainty in solving crimes which comes from scientific testing, is unmatched, but the “unsung heroes” are the investigators who perform the tests.