University of Tasmania
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The effectiveness of forensic identification evidence in volume crime policing in Australia

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posted on 2023-05-28, 00:11 authored by Brown, CM
Police have endeavoured to establish a knowledge base on effective crime control and prevention practices for specific crime and disorder problems. Volume crime is a generic term that relates to offences such as burglary and motor vehicle theft that have a broad impact across the community. This crime category is difficult to police due to the sheer number of crimes committed daily and, in most instances, there are no witnesses and often, no evidence to identify the offender. Although it is recognised that forensic evidence can assist police in the investigation of volume crimes, little is known about the actual impact of forensic evidence on volume crime investigations, and the ways in which it used by police during the investigative process. Most studies on the effectiveness of forensic science have centred around the use of forensic evidence in the courts with fewer studies examining the effectiveness of forensic science in policing. A gap exists in the police understanding of the most effective ways to use forensic evidence for both investigative and crime reduction purposes. Evidence-based research is needed to provide police organisations with the knowledge and tools to understand how forensic evidence 'works' and how best to use it to address volume crime. This research addresses this gap in knowledge and practice by examining how forensic fingerprint and DNA evidence is used in the investigation of volume crimes in Australia. Through a mixed methods multiphase methodology, combining quantitative and qualitative research, the findings have provided the basis for an evidence-based research approach to the effective use of forensic evidence in volume crime investigations, with recommendations that align with the primary research philosophy of 'what works'. This research project is divided into three phases. The study conducted in Phase One analyses data collected in the first nation-wide study of the impact of fingerprint and DNA evidence on burglaries in Australia. This was one of the first end-to-end studies (i.e. examining the progression of forensic evidence from crime scene to arrest) in the world. Quantitative data were collected from all police organisations in Australia that enabled the benchmarking of performance. The analysis of these data on 8,000 burglary cases found that when fingerprint and DNA evidence led to the identification of a suspect, this resulted in an arrest in more cases than where no forensic evidence was located, yet the data presents considerable variation in performance across Australia. In Phase Two, one of the first Lean studies in forensic services in Australia was conducted in one jurisdiction to identify areas of wasteful work practices in the forensic end-to-end process. The study removed non-value adding practices with the aim of improving the overall delivery of forensic services in the investigation of volume crime cases. This study found that focusing resources in the forensic end-to-end processes on fingerprint and DNA evidence with the best chance of identifying a suspect is the most efficient manner for the investigation of volume crimes. Finally, in Phase Three, a qualitative research study was conducted with police officers from three Australian jurisdictions to explore the ways in which they used fingerprint and DNA evidence in their investigations. This study found that while police investigators considered fingerprint and DNA evidence as essential contributors to the investigative process, this application was hindered by limited knowledge of the strengths and limitations of various forensic evidence types. The analysis of the findings across all three phases of the research revealed that fingerprint and DNA evidence are effective in volume crime investigations in Australia; however, there is considerable variability in performance across and within jurisdictions. Factors affecting this performance were found to include: the lack of a clear and consistent approach to targeting the use of forensic evidence in volume crime investigations and a lack of knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses of different evidence types. For forensic evidence to be used most successfully, the research findings suggest that police take two pathways. First, focusing police and laboratory processes on high probity evidence will provide for greater consistency in the collection, analysis and investigation of forensic evidence, faster provision of forensic results to the investigators, and ultimately result in faster resolution of volume crime investigations. Second, for this to occur requires a collaborative approach to sharing knowledge gained from experience, practice and research between police, forensic providers, and researchers. This will ensure that all personnel participating at any stage of the end-to-end process in the investigation of volume crime can make sense of the forensic evidence and understand how best to use it. The effective use of forensic science in policing, including the effective use of fingerprint and DNA evidence, requires the incorporation of scientific approaches to decision-making into policing. The core argument in this thesis is that through consistently applying the practices that have been scientifically assessed and determined as successful, forensic science can make a positive difference to the efficiency and effectiveness of policing volume crime offending. This requires a change in mindset so that forensic science is viewed beyond its value for prosecutions but as a vital thread that can be woven through the entire range of investigative, intelligence and crime prevention strategies to support effective police performance.


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