The Watch with Will Kennedy: CMPD CSI Shoe Casting

CHARLOTTE, NC — Sometimes when solving crimes, it’s gotta be the shoes.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police crime scene investigators use a process called “casting” to pull shoe prints. And as we learn in tonight’s Watch, the forensic footwear evidence often leads to an arrest and conviction.

“I’ve had a couple of cases in particular where we were able to get an immediate turnaround with the case, based solely on shoe prints,” says CMPD CSI Angela Flanders.

They may not use them often, but when they do…

“When it comes to major scenes, castings are something we do, because it is a permanent good thing for the lab to look at,” says CMPD CSI Christine Cain. “That they can physically look at.”

CMPD CSI supervisor Scott Willinsky worked a sexual assault where a shoe print helped break the case.

“The suspect was caught nearby,” explains Willinsky. “To put him in the general area, we casted a shoe, sneaker prints, that were in mud, that actually matched his sneakers.”

Flanders has seen shoe prints clear a suspect, and bring down a suspected robber.

“Found some shoe prints on the counter top,” says Flanders. “Lifted them. Took them out to the patrol car. And asked to see his shoes. As soon as he saw the lift I had of his shoe print, he confessed to the crime.”

“Casting” involves mixing a substance like dental stone with water, covering the shoe or tire track, and then “lifting” that impression.

CMPD’s CSIs are trained in the process.

Investigators can also use gels, print dust and photography to document shoe or foot prints.

“And then it lifts it up, so then it’s on,” Cain explains as she removes a gel. “And then you have that, and we can turn that in so we have an actual, physical copy of that shoe print.”

Forensic footwear evidence is distinct; like a finger print. Revealing things like the number of people at a crime scene, where they went, and how tall they might be.

But many times, it’s the make and model of a shoe that give a criminal away.

“A lot of them have distinct patterns,” says Cain. “So even though everybody wears their shoes differently, you walk different, the tread gets worn down differently.”

There are tricks to the trade. “Casting” can take longer to set in cold weather. Willinsky says pulling a vehicle over the area can speed up the process.