UCR Extension Instructor Pioneered Crime Scene Photography

Steven Staggs authored one of first field guides for crime scene investigators

By Elaine Regus

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — Crime scene photography has changed dramatically since Steven Staggs first picked up a camera to document a crime scene in 1982.

Digital cameras and advances in DNA technology have revolutionized the crime scene photography field.

“Back in the old days, we could do a crime scene in an hour,” Staggs said. “Now, we have crime scenes that take us days to do because of all the DNA possibilities and trace evidence like hairs and fibers.”

Staggs spent 32 years in law enforcement before retiring as captain of the UC Riverside Police Department in 2004. He taught the Field Evidence Technician Course at Cal State Long Beach from 1984 to 2007 and has been an instructor in UCR Extension’s Crime Scene Investigation certificate program since 1995. During that time, he has trained more than 5,000 crime scene investigators and technicians.

UCR Extension Crime Scene Investigation Program Instructor, Steve Staggs.

UCR Extension Crime Scene Investigation Program Instructor, Steve Staggs.

His book, “Crime Scene and Evidence Photographer’s Guide” published in 1996, was one of the first field guides published for crime scene investigators.

“My students kept asking for a field guide or a good book they could carry with them,” Staggs said. “I couldn’t find one to recommend so I wrote one.”

His guide has sold more than 40,000 copies and is used by more than 1,000 law enforcement and fire agencies across the country. His second book, “Crime Scene Photography,” is the text for UCR Extension’s CSI program.

Unlike artistic and commercial photography, crime scene photography is very technical.  There’s no selective focusing or touch ups.

“It is photographing everything with as much detail and precision as possible with as little distortion as possible,” Staggs said. “Lens selection and angles become very important and are skills that people have to learn.”

Staggs was 12 when his grandfather took him to Yosemite, where he observed Ansel Adams teaching a photography class. He was fascinated. His grandfather bought him a camera and he has been snapping photographs every since. Today, he teaches an intergenerational CSI program for teenagers and their grandparents through Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel.

“I like seeing the light bulb come on when people are trying to understand a concept or process and all of the sudden they get it,” Staggs said. “That’s exciting.”

But, there’s more. Staggs was particularly concerned about the victims and victims’ families in all the cases he handled as a police officer. “If I can help to train new people to be able to be more effective in processing crime scenes then that’s going to help some victim or some victim’s family that needs closure and that’s a big part of it,” he said.

Staggs is teaching Crime Scene Photography during UCR Extension’s Crime Scene Investigation Summer Academy, which runs through Friday, Aug. 7.  He also teaches the Crime Scene Management course and the Crime Scene Investigation Practicum where teams of students use the skills they have learned during the five-week academy to process a crime scene, write a report and make a presentation.

Learn more about UCR Extension’s CSI courses and programs at:

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