Actions taken at the beginning of a crime scene investigation can have far-reaching implications in the resolution of the crime, apprehension of the suspects and prosecution in the court of law. Meticulous and thorough investigation is key in ensuring that potential evidence is not destroyed or tampered with and witnesses overlooked. While many criminal investigation agencies employ a wide range of programs, techniques and equipment used in crime scene processing, the resources available and level of training vary from country to country. Apparently, the ability to investigate crimes has improved dramatically over the years with advances in information and communication technology, and development of the scientific laboratory and the polygraph. With these improvements in the range and abilities of crime scene investigation techniques and more advancements expected in future, crime investigators are confronted with unprecedented increase in crimes against property and the person.
Forensic investigators play a vital role in identifying criminals and analyzing evidence against them. Across the world, trained and skilled forensic experts work for public law enforcement agencies and in the private sector to carry out diverse tasks related to collection and analysis of criminal evidence. These experts are also responsible for writing reports to be used in subsequent legal procedures. Generally, the work of forensic investigators involves use of different technologies to unravel even the most sophisticated crimes (Haag & Haag, 2011). The rate of technological change in the world today is so fast that complex criminal investigation procedures and processes can be accomplished quite easily. In order to effectively identify and prosecute criminals, investigators should stay current with the various types of technological developments, which can be applied in forensic science. This paper outlines emerging technologies, which are used currently by forensic investigators to inspect crime scenes.
A Review of Emerging Techniques in Crime Scene Investigations
As technology steadily infiltrates every aspect of live, investigation of crimes has become somehow futuristic in its advances. Over the past few decades, a number of advanced forensic techniques have been developed, which have made forensic procedures more accurate, efficient and remarkably fast. The list below explains some of these emerging forensic techniques:
Plasma Mass Spectrometry
This technique is based on the consideration that putting together small pieces of glass can be critical in finding clues about a crime such as direction of the bullet, the strength of the impact and the kind of tools or weapon used in committing the crime. This technique uses isotopic recognition abilities to break glass samples of any size to the smallest particles so that their atomic structures can be studied. Once the microscopic structures of the glass have been identified, forensic investigators can match even the tiniest pieces of glass on a suspect’s body to the sample obtained from the scene. This forensic investigation technique is widely used to investigate crimes involving breakage of glass such as burglary and carjacking (Haag & Haag, 2011).
Crime Lights and Alternative Light Photography
Crimes do not always happen in convenient places. With advances in the field of photography sciences, flashlights with different wavelengths have been invented. These flashlights can be used to identify invisible hair, body fluids and fibers at crime scenes. Special crime lights have made it possible for sites and locations previously unreachable to examination by fluorescent light to be accessed. Because sources of crime lights are vey portable, even the most difficulty locations such as roofs of tall buildings accessible for forensic examination. The technique of alternative light photography is used by forensic nurses to ascertain the extent of physical damage suffered by a patient involved in a crime. The patient can be the victim or perpetrator of the crime. Alternative light photography is widely used in critical life saving situations. The technique uses special cameras to see damage inside the body even before its effects are visible on the skin. For instance, it can be used to examine hidden blood in crime scenes. Even minute quantities of blood that remain after a cover-up cleaning can be made to luminesce under alternative light photography. In addition, narcotics hidden in the body can luminesce under alternative light photography (Haag & Haag, 2011).
Video Spectral Comparator
This technique relies on using a special machine to examine pieces of paper to reveal hidden writing, lift indented writing and even determine the quality and origin of the paper. Video spectral comparators are so accurate that they enable investigators to execute examinations even if the paper has been damaged by fire or water in such a manner that it cannot be read (Haag & Haag, 2011).
High-speed Ballistic Photography
Forensic investigators use this technique to determine how gunshots and subsequent bullet holes are created. Usually, high-speed cameras are used in high-speed ballistic photography. The ability to determine precisely and match the direction of the bullet and impact marks is critical in investigation of gun related crimes.
Forensic Facial Reconstruction
This is an emerging technology is the most widely used in crime scene investigations involving unidentified human remains. In this technique, special three-dimensional reconstruction software takes human remains and extrapolates possible real life appearance of skeletal remains (Owen, 2000).
Digital Surveillance for Xbox and Other Digital Devices
Gaming systems are a safe place for keeping illicit data, and that is why these systems are used by criminals quite often. In an important ground-breaking advancement in crime investigations, the XFT device allows investigators to access hidden information in the hard disks of Xbox. This is a developing technology in computer forensics but will go a long way in helping law enforcement agencies deter computer related crimes such as system hacking and money laundering (Haag & Haag, 2011).
There are also newly available recording systems designed to aid crime scene investigators to extract suspicious data from disparate electronic systems to be used in matching suspects to crimes in ways that could otherwise be hard to achieve. These systems pull partial names, monikers, vehicle descriptions and physical description information from recording systems to identify suspects. In some situations, criminals use dry-erase boards to take and copy notes. Electronic white board technology can be sued to scan notes on dry-erase boards for forensic investigations and identification of criminals (Haag & Haag, 2011).
dNa testing is at the core of forensic testing with respect to various criminal activities. In DNA sequencing, forensic investigators use trace evidence like skin and hair samples to identify criminals and victims. The technique is widely used in many forensic settings because of its ability to positively identify persons of interest. According to Owen (2000), the use of DNA evidence in crime scene investigations has been the gold standard in forensic science since DNA profiling was successfully completed in 1980s. Since then, the use of this technology in forensic investigations has expanded and evolved steadily. In some cases, use of DNA evidence has compelled policy makers to reexamine legal systems in light of overwhelming new possibilities. DNA sequencing is capable of linking suspects to crimes long after it was committed. Equally, this technology can be used to free suspects who were wrongly convicted (Haag & Haag, 2011).
Forensic Carbon-14 Dating
It is ordinarily used to determine the ages of unidentified remains for archaeological and anthropological reasons. Traditionally, carbon-14 dating is used in estimating ages of organic remains less than 50,000 years old. It relies on minute quantities of carbon are freely found in these remains. Since the amount of this carbon has decreased and increased to known levels, the technique can be used in determining the ages of skeletons and certain unidentified human remains.
These technologies allow investigators to compare fingerprints identified at a crime scene with those in a database. The use of no touch wanding and magnetic fingerprint dust enable crime scene investigators to get an accurate impression of the suspect’s fingerprints (Owen, 2000).
Software for Link Analysis Software
Link analysis software remains an invaluable tool for use by forensic accountants to track illicit funds transfer. This software tracks suspicious digital financial transactions and customer profiles to generate probabilities of possible illegal behaviors. Links analysis is widely used by banking institutions to track suspected money laundering activities (Baden & Roach, 2011).
In-Car Camera Systems and Graffiti Cameras
In-car camera systems are an invaluable crime scene investigations tool used to enforce and confirm a high degree of professionalism by the investigations officer. These systems have the ability to record still and video footages of events involving the public from the perspective of a patrol car. They are thus indispensable in forensic investigations involving traffic stops and arrests, internal affairs and attempts to compromise police officers. For example, in-car cameras can be installed to document drunk driving, over speeding and other dangerous roadside maneuvers. The capabilities of these systems are constantly evolving as technology advances. The greatest value of in-car camera systems in crime scene investigations is in serving as a silent witness to crimes. They provide expedited means to exonerate officers from false accusations and resolve public complaints (Owen, 2000).
Anti-Graffiti and Vandalism Cameras
Forensic systems exist for investigating suspects who vandalize properties. These systems can warn intruders that it is illegal to vandalize properties or spray graffiti. They can also notify law enforcement agencies of vandalism crimes that are in progress. These special cameras can be utilized in investigating illegal dumping activities and loitering. Some cameras are solar powered and wireless. Therefore, they can be moved to new places to monitor potential crimes. In the developed countries, the number of vandalisms and incidents of graffiti has reduced remarkably because of these systems. By deterring vandalism and crime-related graffiti, these cameras help in disrupting and reducing gang activities (Haag & Haag, 2011).
A number of devices are available which produce image of reflected or radiated surface energy in thermal electromagnetic spectrums. These devices have numerous applications for forensic investigations. For instance, they can be used to locate a fleeing criminal in a matter of minutes. Of particular value is the ability to be deployed in searching wooded and dense brush where conventional investigation techniques are hard to use. Similarly, thermal imaging techniques can be utilized in monitoring dark corners, terrains and other suspected places for criminals who are trying to escape (Baden & Roach, 2011).
It is a recognized fact that all crime scenes are unique. Therefore, the judgment of forensic investigators at the scene as well as the techniques they use can have a significant bearing on the quality of investigations. Over the years, various scientific advancements have led to significant improvements in the field of crime scene investigations. Resultantly, these improvements have altered the way in which evidence is processed and criminals prosecuted. As highlighted in the foregoing discussion, a number of techniques are employed by forensic investigators to examine crime scenes. These technologies range from simple crude techniques to sophisticated ones. With these sophisticated techniques, the collection of evidence from crime scenes has greatly improved. It is expected that as technology advances even further, new techniques will be invented and that they can make the work of crimes scene investigators much easier. However, techniques use by criminals are also advancing as technology advances. Most of these new technologies are related to information and communication technology. It is therefore important for investigators to keep pace with emerging technologies that can potentially be used to commit crimes.
Baden, M. & Roach, M. (2011). Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Haag, M. & Haag, L. (2011). Shooting Incident Reconstruction. New York: Academic Press.
Owen, D. (2000). Hidden Evidence: The Story of Forensic Science and how it Helped to Solve 40 of the World's Toughest Crimes. London: Quintet Publishing.