There are three parts to this module: Firstly there is an introduction that deals with the basics - sets the scene so to speak - about what a scene is and how its investigation is approached. After this, we develop the basic principles that ensure that the potential information present at the scene is correctly and safely identified, recorded and recovered. Lastly we elaborate a little on the practical roles of the personnel involved in the scene investigation and spend some time on the principles that ensure that the reconstruction of events that could have created the scene is scientifically sound. We will start with a brief exploration of what we mean by forensic science and crime scene investigation.
What do you think forensic science is? Take a few minutes to write down your answer - and keep it safe as we will return to this in Module 6. For now, the important thing is that you are aware that there are many areas that
can be regarded as forensic science: Doping of athletes, parentage testing, investigation of environmental spills, authentication of works of art, workplace drug monitoring, and public health matters such as identifying the source and cause of outbreaks of food poisoning are all examples of where science has provided the answer to questions of identity or supported an investigation of some kind. This MOOC is about the more conventional application of forensic science - the investigation of crime. We are going to deal with the problem of defining forensic science by ignoring it, at least until the final module. Instead we will explore the involvement of some aspects of forensic science in the investigation of a murder.
The case study, “Murder by the Loch” is based on a real case, but the setting and some of the detail have been adapted somewhat. The development of the investigation will be linked to the principles of forensic science and crime scene examination. The exploration will begin where forensic science begins, at the crime scene, and this time we
will provide a definition: A crime scene is: “The scene of an incident irrespective of whether a criminal or illegal action has been established”. Note that the definition opens an issue of nomenclature - we should really be talking about an incident scene, but crime scene has become the catch-all name. Likewise, “Crime Scene Investigation” has become a catch-all for the activity, but it may help if we distinguish between crime scene investigation, crime scene management and crime scene examination.
“Investigation” begins with the response to a reported incident and ends when it is closed either with the assessment that there is no sound evidence that a crime was committed or with the submission of one or more reports describing what was done, what was found, and what conclusions were drawn. Scene investigation is an iterative and collaborative process that can involve police investigators, trained crime scene officers, specialist personnel including those based in a forensic science laboratory, and in some jurisdictions, examining magistrates or their equivalent. “Management” is the process of planning and conducting the searching of the scene, and “examination” is the actual conduct of the securing, searching, and interpretation of the scene.
If the crime scene is where the contribution of forensic science begins, the starting point for the scene itself is the reporting of the incident. This will usually be something seen by a routine police patrol, or a call to the emergency services telephone centre. Either way, the critical first step in the examination of the crime scene is the action taken by the police officer or officers who respond to the notification. These can be known as “first responders”, “first attending officers” or “first officers attending” or FOA, they have to evaluate the scene, ensure the safety of victims and any others at the scene, and to determine whether or not a crime may have been committed.
If the FOA thinks that a crime may have been committed, a decision has to be made regarding what level of response to initiate. For more serious crimes this will involve communication with detectives and possibly crime scene investigators. This was illustrated in the case study, where officers McBride and Bell made the obvious decision that a murder had been committed and reported what they had found, resulting in Ms Watson and D/I Morrison being dispatched to the scene.
The decision of the FOA to regard the incident as a murder and request the attendance of a senior crime scene officer as well as the senior investigating officer (SIO, Detective Inspector Morrison) is a good place at which to return to the over-arching principles that apply to the role of forensic science in the investigation. It is now the turn of D/I Morrison and Ms Watson to evaluate the situation. At this point they have something known, something that they are reasonably confident about, and several things yet to be explored. They know where the crime scene is, it is pretty obvious that a crime has been committed, but there is no suspect as yet.
There are other questions too, which we will now explore. We can approach the strategy for the investigation and its implementation using a device known as the 6Ws. These are questions that require a factual response but which
cannot be answered ’Yes’ or ‘No’: WHAT happened? WHERE did it take place? HOW did it happen? WHO was involved? WHEN did it happen (at what time, in what sequence)? WHY did it happen?