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To trace or not to trace: a survey of how police use and perceive chemical trace evidence

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 11:04 authored by Peter WoodmanPeter Woodman, Roberta JulianRoberta Julian, Caroline SpiranovicCaroline Spiranovic, Kaye Ballantyne
There is limited information available about the impact of chemical trace evidence and it has tended to be anecdotal and mostly pertaining to court outcomes. Very little is known about the use of chemical trace evidence by police investigators or the impact that this evidence form has on criminal investigations. This survey, which was conducted in Victoria, Australia, was aimed at addressing these inadequacies by capturing information from police investigators about: (i) the purpose of using chemical trace and other forensic services; (ii) the expectation of what value forensic services would provide; (iii) the actual impact of forensic evidence in specified cases; and (iv) the general perceptions of forensic science. Police officers who were the lead investigators in a sample of criminal investigations were selected as the subjects for this survey. Each of the sample cases included chemical trace evidence and many of the cases also included other forms of forensic evidence. The police investigators indicated that they use chemical trace evidence with the expectation that it will assist decision-making in their investigations and contribute to building a case for court. Survey responses indicated that chemical trace evidence can impact on multiple stages of a case and that this form of evidence can play a part in guiding police investigators in making decisions about how their cases progress through the criminal justice system. It was found that an important aspect of the impact of chemical trace evidence can involve connections with other forensic and non-forensic evidence in the cases. The provision of preliminary results, prior to the formal written reports that are issued for use in court, enables chemical trace evidence to contribute timely support to investigations. The findings of this survey study contradict prevailing perceptions that the contribution of chemical trace evidence is limited to the presentation of evidence in court.


Publication title

Forensic Science International



Article number









School of Social Sciences


Elsevier Sci Ireland Ltd

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Customer Relations Manager, Bay 15, Shannon Industrial Estate Co, Clare, Ireland

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© 2019 Published by Elsevier.

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Criminal justice; Law enforcement

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