Pablo Cardoza: From Art School to Forensic Investigations

Before CSI the television show there was still the scientific investigation of crime, and before computer software there were other (albeit more cumbersome) ways of using fingerprints found at crime scenes to convict criminals.

"Many aspects of crime detection are timeless," observes Pablo "Paul" Cardoza (Art Education 1982). And he speaks with authority here. A deep interest in art and visuality, new technologies, and creative problem solving led Cardoza from art school to the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office, where he spent several years, to his current occupation as a private investigator specializing in computer-based forensics.

From CCA to the Sheriff's Department

"I loved CCA! I got the best grades of my life there," laughs Cardoza. "Shortly after I finished in 1982, I stumbled across an ad from the Sheriff's Department to take a test in fingerprint IDs. It was essentially evaluating our aptitude for pattern matching and negative-positive discernment. I scored really high, and was recruited for a job. I received training from the FBI and the California Department of Justice, and I also took some courses in crime scene analysis.”

On the job, he was constantly calling upon skills he'd developed in art school. "Looking at a crime scene is like looking at any problem: You use the creative part of your brain to put things together, to imagine a narrative for what happened. Especially in my particular area of specialization, it was all about creative visual thinking. My artistic background directly translated to forensics."

In addition to Cardoza's specialization in fingerprints, he spent a lot of time in the photography lab working on developing new and experimental techniques, for instance reversing negatives taken at crime scenes to discern additional evidence. "And when the computers at the many different law-enforcement bureaus became networked, we were immediately better able to track criminals on the move -- for instance, say, a hit man moving between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It was a very exciting time, and an intensely interesting job."

Cardoza stayed with the Sheriff's Department for four years, and continued to witness the rapid evolution of the technology of crime detection. He acquired several "beyond the call of duty" commendations. He subsequently worked as a computer engineer for 15 years, and he is currently a private investigator with expertise in computer forensics, surveillance, and criminal defense.

Take and Seek: A Crime Scene Investigator's Story

Toward the end of his career with the Sheriff's Department, Cardoza wrote a novel based on his experiences, Take and Seek: A Crime Scene Investigator's Story, which is now finally published. He is currently seeking producers for possible movie deal. He had to update some of the technology-related plot details to be plausible in 2012, he says, but the basics of the story needed few adjustments.

"Just as numerous aspects of crime detection are timeless," Cardoza says, "the crimes themselves don't change much either. This story has terrorism, drug smuggling, romance, high-tech law enforcement tools, and a lot of action and suspense. It's set in the Northern California coastal county of Mendocino, which is generally known for its serene ocean views, crashing waves, and whale watching tours. In the story, all of that is shattered with the deaths of three young women, a baby abducted from a local hospital maternity ward, and the disappearance of a welfare worker.

"Generally, my concept was: a great story about the best in law enforcement going up against the best on lawlessness and super-terrorism!"