Forensic investigator Carla Foran, ’05, sometimes wonders if she was led to her work in part because of an unsolved family mystery. Foran was named for her grandfather, who died just two weeks before she was born. Though his death was ruled a suicide, Foran says the facts don’t really add up.
She should know.
Today, as a senior agent with the Raleigh/Wake City County Bureau of Identification (CCBI), Foran collects evidence from crime scenes using a variety of forensic techniques and tools. Foran, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in criminology from Meredith, said it’s challenging and interesting work with endless variety. Foran has stayed connected to Meredith, returning to campus regularly to speak to students about her career.
“It is exciting for Meredith students to meet someone who has had years of experience,” said Lori Brown, professor of criminology and sociology. “Carla brings real life into the classroom when she talks about her crime scene investigations, testifying in court, and dealing with the public.”
According to Brown, one of the most important aspects Foran brings to a class visit is her self-confidence. “She knows what she is doing and students really need to see and hear this. Having strong, competent women speaking on campus is always important.”
No Such Thing as a Typical Day.
Foran knew she wanted to do something meaningful with her life.
“I’ve always had to have a job that meant something,” said Foran. “I’m a purpose-driven person.”
She started out in the ID technical area, fingerprinting individuals who had been arrested as they were coming in. Within a year or two, she was promoted to field work. Her natural curiosity, sense of organization, and observational skills served her well starting out, and continue to do so.
“I enjoy being mobile and working outside,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to sit in an office.”
Variety is another reason Foran enjoys her career. Every day is different, and she works both day and night shifts. Most of her time is spent out in the field, covering crimes ranging from property crimes to larceny, homicides to traffic fatalities.
When she arrives on a scene, she talks to the officers and gets a basic understanding of what took place. She also speaks with any parties involved. Her primary job is to document, collect, and preserve evidence.
“My specialty is shooting reconstruction,” said Foran. “It’s not just dusting for finger-prints. We’re gathering biological evidence, taking photos and video, measuring the size of the room, and where the items of evidence are located. The point is if you need to recreate the scene, you can put things exactly where they were.”
There’s no doubt the job has its challenges. For one, it can be difficult to consistently see people on their worst days. “You get very jaded,” said Foran. “You worry about things more because you know what’s possible.”
People are understandably curious about her work. Often, she’s asked how to get a job like hers. People also ask what’s the worst thing she has ever seen.
“First of all, I’m not going to tell anyone that kind of information,” she said. “These are peoples’ family members; it’s just not right.” So her standard response to the question is to recall her own personal worst experience, which took place when she responded to a burglary.
“I am petrified of snakes. A man’s whole basement was full of reptiles and snakes, and five of them had been stolen. I said ‘I am not going in there.’”
The continually changing schedule is hard on her body, and finding a work/life balance can be difficult. Foran’s husband also works in law enforcement as a police officer in the Raleigh Police Department. As parents, Foran and her husband have had honest conversations with their children about their work, but they try to protect them at the same time.
“They know what death is and they understand court at the basic level,” she said. “We always say ‘Be safe,’ and my kids say that to us, too.”
CSI Effect is Real
Foran said her work little resembles what is portrayed on popular television shows like CSI, but the popular show has had an impact on Foran’s job, primarily because of the misconceptions such shows propagate.
“People’s expectations are based on what they see on T.V.,” she said. “They think you can solve everything in an hour. On these shows, if you scan a print, right away it pops up with a photo.”
In fact, she said, when fingerprints are scanned, algorithms help determine a “top ten list” to look at and then a human has to compare the information to determine a match.
Another common misperception: “I’m not wearing heels and driving a Hummer,” she laughed. “It doesn’t work that way.”
The CSI effect can be more difficult to manage when it influences perceptions of those she encounters at crime scenes.
“People want to tell you how to do your job,” she said. “Some can be quite demanding.”
A Strong Choice for Women
Foran’s Meredith education prepared her well for her career. She draws on content she learned through her criminology minor, and her pre-law concentration gave her knowledge of the basics of law, which is helpful when she is testifying in court. Perhaps the most important tool she gained at Meredith was becoming a strong writer.
“Even interns have to pass a reading and writing test. Writing is taken seriously in this field,” she said. “It can be stressful, because everything you do is under a microscope,” she said.
Today women make up the majority of forensic professionals for a variety of reasons. Women tend to be observant and detail-oriented. Particularly in cases involving a sexual assault, female officers can help make victims feel more comfortable and may be able to ask questions that can aid the investigation.
Andy Parker, Foran’s supervisor and assistant director, Raleigh/Wake City County Bureau of Identification, has worked with Foran for eight years. He has seen the shift toward female forensic professionals firsthand.
“When I first came to CCBI almost 20 years ago, we employed only two female crime scene investigators. Today, CCBI employs only one male crime scene investigator,” said Parker. “I believe that the attention to detail as well as a woman’s ability to multitask are big reasons why we have seen this shift from a male-dominated profession to a female-dominated one.”
Parker is quick to commend Foran’s professionalism. “The senior crime scene investigator is relied upon to ensure that her squad runs as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said. “CSI Foran does a fine job of that.”
Forensic jobs like hers are in high demand.
“These jobs are hard to find. Our internships are highly competitive. We get applicants from all over. And when a position is posted, we get hundreds of applications,” Foran said. She understands why others want to pursue a similar vocation.
“I lucked out getting into this profession,” she said. “I love my job. I’m around on these bad days for a reason, and I feel like I’m making a difference.”
New! Graduate Programs in Criminal Justice
Starting in Fall 2020, Meredith College expanded its graduate offerings. Meredith’s online criminal justice programs are suitable for those who are already working in the field as well as those who are pursuing nontraditional pathways to corrections and criminal justice.
Master of Arts in Criminal Justice
Learn to manage complex issues and prepare for administrative and leadership positions, with a particular focus on writing.
Criminal Justice Graduate Certificate
Gain additional skills and knowledge as a criminal justice professional.
Criminal Justice and Substance Use Disorder Certificate
Learn to deal effectively with issues around substance use disorder, trauma, and mental illness.
Learn more: meredith.edu/criminal-justice