“Forensic science, in its broadest definition, is the application of science to law.”
Richard R. Saferstein Ph.D., (2011)
“Every Contact Leaves a Trace”
Professor Edmund Locard (1877), Founder and Director, Institute Of Criminalistics, University of Lyons, France.
As a manager in a service industry that requires accountability on so many levels to the general public and other stakeholders when dealing with crime related incidents; the importance of effective leadership through structured processes, underpinned by sound core operational skills has never been so important.
There have been many examples of public interest in forensic science and crime scene investigation over the years. One example can be read in literature dating back to the time of Mark Twain, in one such novel titled Pudd’nhead Wilson in 1894; mentioning the use of fingerprinting before the technique became widely accepted by law enforcement agencies. Before this, the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his series of Sherlock Holmes stories raised the possibility of various forensic principles before their acceptance by authorities of that era (Saferstein, 2011 pg 5).
In more recent times interest has gathered momentum with the assistance of television, showing a variety of popular CSI programs which have become regular viewing. As a former Police Officer, fingerprint practitioner and now lecturer over the last ten years I have seen a growing expectation from the general public and new students, that forensics has the ability to solve crimes in almost every instance. Although this expectation may seem impractical to some, it is not unrealistic to consider the possibilities which have now become an expected resource used by crime investigators.
In the opening comment, Saferstein draws attention to the culmination of science combined with sound investigative methodology that allows forensic science, using established disciplines to provide evidence to the courts concerning the recognition and interpretation of physical evidence (2011 pg 4). Moreover the development of this practice has been achieved through the collaboration of scientists and practitioners over centuries, who through their efforts have contributed towards the shaping of forensic organisations and practices today.
In this country there are in a broad sense three main aspects to forensic administration:
- Laboratory and
- Medical Services.
Each group contains a range of disciplines within that domain, for example Field Services would best classify such disciplines as Fingerprints, Fire and Crime Scene Examination to name just a few.
In Laboratory Services, disciplines such as Chemistry, Biology and Toxicology would be considered.
Medical Services would house disciplines such as Pathology, Psychology and Odontology (Dentistry).
Some of these lines of work are intertwined due to the scope of their roles. For example a fingerprint examiner after attending a crime scene may need to follow up on their work by carrying out further examinations of physical evidence collected at the scene back in a laboratory environment. Specialists from these disciplines continue to work with and provide technical support to field investigators in a coordinated effort when dealing with crime related incidents.
From the perspective of a manager, where an incident has occurred that requires police assistance, the importance of maintaining the integrity of the scene is vital. Preservation and continuity of evidence is critical in providing the court facts that are impartial, reliable and able to withstand legal scrutiny. If the physical evidence is misrepresented by way of the collection process, its preservation or interpretation, it may carry little or no value in the judicial process.
Being able to effectively preserve the scene including securing any relevant information before, during or after the event through proper training and awareness will assist authorities with their investigations. This awareness should embrace an understanding of what constitutes potential physical evidence even if you are not a qualified forensic practitioner – it can be represented in many forms and is generally considered biological or non-biological. This includes materials, equipment or the method of transport used to carry out the crime which may also draw some relevance.
In developing a reasonable course of action when dealing with a crime related incident, consider some of the following steps you could embrace to assist authorities with their investigation.
It goes without saying that first of all the safety of the public, staff and yourself should always be paramount.
- Assess the scope of the incident and what assistance is required;
- determine the level of threat or injury already caused, including damage to property which could pose further health risk, and alert emergency services without delay.
- Isolate the scene of the incident in order to preserve any evidence which may be present.
- Consider the possibility of escape routes and vehicles used by the offender that could also be isolated or recorded.
- Initiate a recording process that you can easily access to store key information about the incident and any security measures already in place (audio / visual) that can be provided to investigating personnel.
- Remind staff and or witness not to talk about the details of the incident prior to police arrival. This will prevent the inadvertent clouding of individual witness accounts which should not be discussed before speaking with police.
In keeping with Professor Locard’s early observations and the advancements in today’s technology, skills and understanding, forensic science has become a globally accepted practice towards solving crime where the level of criminal behaviour is ever becoming more diverse.
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- Saferstein, R. (2011) Criminalistics – An Introduction to Forensic Science
- Dr. Edmond Locard (13 December 1877 – 4 May 1966) – a pioneer in forensic science. He formulated the basic principle of forensic science “Every contact leaves a trace”. This became known as Locard’s exchange principle. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmond_Locard