28 May 2013

Focus On... Crime Scene Investigation - 'more than meets the eye'

Mark Walsh | Principal CSI

Hi all – hope you enjoyed Phill’s blogs last week. If you missed them you can read them using the links on the right-hand side of this page.

Right, back to the blog…

Forensic evidence is the main tool for solving crime for all police forces. But we don’t always walk away from a scene with forensic evidence that will identify an offender. Physical evidence is not the only thing we are looking for. We also assess how crimes are committed and from that can link scenes and identify offenders through similar offences. 

Vehicle crime is a great example. Say several cars have been broken into. CSIs may only find good forensic evidence at a few of the scenes but due to other circumstances (we can’t tell you this bit, sorry!) we can double check fingerprint lifts against other scenes and solve more than one crime at a time.

Recently we got a DNA match on an offender in relation to a vehicle crime who then admitted over 30 similar offences even though no evidence was obtained at some of the other scenes – a good result. 

Of course a CSI would prefer to find evidence at all of the scenes they attend – this is something that you, as potential victims, can certainly help with. Preserving scenes is absolutely essential, giving us the best chance to find the proof we need to bring offenders to justice.

We do know how distressing being the victim of a burglary can be.  If you are unfortunate to find yourself in this situation, the best action you can take to assist us is:
  • try to identify where and how the burglar got in    
  • look at what items have been moved - this will establish which rooms have been entered and searched
  • do not to touch anything – if you have to move items let the CSI know on their arrival - but please be aware, touching items may mean forensic opportunities are reduced
  • contrary to what you see on the TV, picking up items with cloths and gloves can wipe off fingerprints
  • check to see if the burglar dropped an item of their own property – are there items in your house you do not recognise?

When you call 999 or 101 our Control Room call handlers will give you scene preservation advice. However, often a victim will be too upset or shocked to take that advice on board, and we understand it is natural to want to search through your belongings to see if anything has been taken. But if I can give you one piece of advice to help us make sure we have the best possible chance of bringing someone to justice, it is this: 

All CSIs have undergone excellent training and will be looking for a large range of forensic opportunities dependant on the crime and the circumstances. We are highly effective and thorough and usually conduct burglary scene searches in less than an hour. That means you are then free to clean up, repair damage and find out exactly what has been stolen so you can inform the investigating officer and your insurance provider. So please help us help you and try not to touch anything if you can.

I’d like to tell you a bit more about our team and what we deal with if I may. 

Our department forms part of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, I believe the second largest directorate of its kind in the UK. From criminal damage to murder scenes, we are trained to cope with whatever is required.

We even get involved in unsolved murders and rapes from many years ago and part of the department’s function is to review all forensic evidence and look for new leads that may identify an offender. With the development and refinement of DNA, murders and rapes which were thought to be undetectable are looked at again and new techniques in the world of forensics can result in successful convictions of people who have never even been in trouble with the police before

Other rapes and murders have been solved by re-analysing extracts taken from victims’ clothing over 20 years ago. Sometimes very small but significant amounts of DNA have resulted in offenders being identified – something even the scientists at the time would not have dreamed possible.

Looking for new forensic leads to solve historic cases has to be one of my favourite parts of the job. Most of the cases are from the 1980s when DNA was in its infancy as a crime fighting tool and it cost a fortune to use. Just a couple of tests could cost many thousands of pounds - a result may have taken many months to come back and there was no database to compare the results, unlike the facilities we have now. 

To identify offenders from crimes which occurred before I even joined Kent Police is one of the most satisfying feelings you can get from a professional perspective, coupled with the fact that the victims, or victims’ families can begin to get closure on a crime that has haunted them for years.

To be able to delve into these historic cases we need the help of the Kent Police Cold Case Investigation Team. To give you some insight into the fascinating work this team carries out they will be up next in our Focus on… series. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading.


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