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Body of Evidence
Feature: 4/9/2008

 Body Of Evidence


Catherine Christie speaks exclusively to Kate Salesse, Greater Manchester Police’s Assistant Director for Forensic Services, about her hunt for workwear that will transform the world of forensics

 Kate Salesse

 

“I’m known for
walking around the office block
wearing one boot and one shoe and putting a full face
respirator on and
seeing how long I can breathe in it”

Forget about what you’ve seen on the TV series CSI - the reality for a crime scene investigator is far less glamorous. That’s according to Kate Salesse, who has spent 13 years working for Greater Manchester Police, firstly as a CSI and now as the Assistant Director for the Forensic Services Branch. “It’s not as sexy as it looks - it’s dirty, it’s hard work but it’s absolutely fascinating,” she says. “Crime scenes can be anything. You might be working under floorboards, on top of a ladder, out on the moors or you might be inside in the middle of summer for two weeks applying chemicals and powders.”

 

Working in such uncontrollable conditions is tough enough, but if the clothes you are wearing aren’t functionally fit for purpose, the challenges can be overwhelming. “When I used to go out to crime scenes, I would find myself on the receiving end of disposable suits that were splitting, that were too hot or too cold, and disposable shoes that you were tripping over because you couldn’t adjust them - a whole host of problems.”

 

Kate’s firsthand experience led her to develop a functional, fit-for-purpose disposable crime scene suit. Her success has since spawned a new market and led to Greater Manchester Police recently giving her the go-ahead to source and procure workwear for her team, which could potentially filter out to forensic staff across the UK.

 

A PPE problem

 

In the field of forensics, preventing contamination of a crime scene is just as important as protecting the individual. Before Kate’s disposable crime scene suit hit the market, however, staff had to make do with non-specialist PPE that was made largely for men in the manufacturing and chemical industries. “If you’re in a crime scene and you are looking for trace evidence, you can’t afford to wear something with lots of fabric or which has gaps between the cuff and a wrist level disposable glove, because you could drop fibres and body hair,” Kate says. “However, it must still allow some comfort for the wearer and be breathable.”

 

The design and innovation of a disposable suit that was fit-for-purpose began in 2003, when kate’s appointment to a managerial role enabled her to seek the necessary support. 

And, after two to three years spent creating the concept and developing different prototypes, the crime scene suit and a whole new market in specialist PPE for forensics was launched in 2006.

 

The suit’s specially-designed features include stick-on pockets that can be placed in areas where items are less likely to fall out and contaminate the scene, lockable zips, adjustable hood flaps, stitching in GMP’s corporate blue colours, better elastication of the cuff and finger loops to prevent gapping. But it is not just crime scene investigators who are benefiting from the product. Kate says: “They are now being used in hospitals where they require similar functionality, and there has also been interest from the fire service, so there are other professions where these suits can offer a better alternative.”

 

The search for workwear

 

With disposables covered, funding was finally approved in May for Kate’s team to start sourcing, procuring and branding corporate workwear for Greater Manchester Police’s forensic staff, who currently wear their own clothes but felt it was necessary to project a more professional image and improve their visibility in public.

 

Trials for clothing for the whole body are already underway, from footwear and trousers to polo shirts, wind stoppers, fleeces and even head torches. “We trial everything that we get in. I’m known for walking around the office block wearing one boot and one shoe and putting a full face respirator on and seeing how long I can breathe in it. You’ve got to be willing to try things on to make sure that they are fit for purpose and the more real the conditions the better. We actively involve operational staff in trialling new products out in the field and feeding their views back to us before we buy.”

 

The final choices will, however, have to fall within the organisation’s restrictions, including not being able to wear anything that could see them mistaken for a police officer. The changing face of the forensic workforce will also have to be taken into consideration. “Since I started working in crime scene investigation, our force has gone from being predominantly male police officers to being, in some roles, two thirds female.

This brings a lot of different requirements and sensitivities with it - trying to find footwear and clothing in sizes suitable for small, petite women and those needing maternity wear, for instance.”

 

Making the shortlist

 

When it comes to describing what she is looking for, innovation, functionality and value for money are top of her list. “There has to be something about the product that makes it stand out from the rest and it’s not just, ‘Oh, these are nice hardwearing trousers, but these are nice hardwearing trousers that wash well and look at this extra detail on the pocket that makes it really suitable for your particular need’. Saying that, I don’t want something that is going to be all-singing, all-dancing, expensive and the absolute bees knees - I want something that is simple to use, easy to maintain and does the job.”

 

When it comes to business relations, she likes people who are willing to engage with her and take a chance. “It’s because I can’t guarantee that they are going to get any business out of it. It’s about getting the best for a specialist unit of staff with quite demanding needs and then recognising the potential for that to be a much wider market.”

 

That wider market stretches to the other police forces in the UK, and Kate is keen to share non-confidential information and buying power with them. “I believe that if my staff and I have that problem, then so has every other person doing a related function. We should be reducing duplication by working collaboratively.”

 

This belief in collaborative working has already been applied with the result that GMP and the Metropolitan Police Service are now working together. Kate previously shared her PPE spec with them and the two forces are now working together on sourcing and procuring workwear. Kate is optimistic that if more and more forces start working together they will be able inform a national review for uniform for police staff.

 

And if that does happen, with a forensics team at the helm, they won’t be short of any evidence.

 

Author: Catherine Christie
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