SAN MATEO (CBS SF) – Those curious about what goes on behind the scenes in a criminal investigation are invited to tour the San Mateo County coroner’s office and forensic laboratory Thursday and Friday.

The roughly hour-and-a-half tours walk visitors through the various procedures forensic scientists and coroners use to track down suspects, match a gun to a shooting, and other detective work, forensic lab director Alex Karagianes said.

The tours allow employees to “tell people what we do here,” Karagianes said.

Karagianes said there are many myths based on TV shows about what a coroner or forensic scientist does. The main misconception, he said, is that people think computers do everything.

“People think a computer tells us the answer,” he said. “It really doesn’t. It just narrows down our search.”

Once visitors see how much work goes into solving crimes, “They have more respect for what we do,” he said.

Popular parts of the tour include viewing the gun collection at the lab and learning about different markings that guns leave behind.

“Even if you are not a gun nut, (visitors) seem to like that,” Karagianes said.

The lab technicians also show participants how they use static electricity to lift shoe prints left on the office floor by unsuspecting visitors. Additionally, they demonstrate the procedures used to collect fingerprints and match DNA evidence to a suspect.

Although it takes a lot of preparation to showcase their forensic lab to the public, Karagianes said the educational component of the tours is important, noting that some participants are local students.

“We show them a career that math and science can lead to,” he said.

Karagianes, who has been a forensic scientist for nearly 30 years, said the lab and the coroner’s office started hosting the tours about four years ago in response to a number of requests from those who wanted to see the facilities.

The tours coincide with the Halloween season, and staff members have decorated the offices, including setting up a pirate ship in the library, according to Karagianes.

Tours will be given every 10 minutes between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. today and Friday at 50 Tower Road in San Mateo.

To reserve a spot, call Robin Foucrault at (650) 312-5307.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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