There are three critical operational stages of a criminal investigation. These are:
• control and coordination of the criminal investigation;
• the criminal investigation;
• the forensic investigation.
Normally the coordination of a major criminal investigation is delegated to a senior investigating officer; likewise a complex forensic investigation must be coordinated by a senior forensic investigator. To manage major incident scenes and multisited crime scenes the crime scene coordinator/manager must understand forensic science and criminal investigation. The crime scene manager must surround him- or herself with competent, skilled and qualified forensic investigators, not prima donnas.
This article only deals with the management of major incident scenes from a forensic investigator’s point of view.
Scene Control and Coordination
Without proper control and coordination, information may not reach the crime scene investigator. This may lead to his or her efforts being aimless, and the leads uncovered may never be passed on to to investigators for follow-up action. This is most important when the crime scene is large and there are several crime scene investigators present processing the scene,or where there are secondary scenes away from the primary scene. There must be a flow of information back and forth between the senior investigator and crime scene investigator. This is one of the functions of the crime scene manager.
Approach to Crime Scene Investigation
The examination of a crime scene and subsequent collection of potential physical evidence requires special skills, knowledge and aptitude. The manner in which a crime scene examination is conducted may be a critical factor in determining the success of an investigation. The proper examination of a crime scene requires a disciplined approach and systematic application of the various observation, recording and collection techniques, as well as an in depth knowledge of forensic science.
Examining a crime scene is often a demanding task, and in many instances requires physical and mental stamina as well as team leader/member skills.
Forensic science has become a powerful aid to criminal investigations, with courts placing much emphasis on the results. Accordingly, the manner in which evidence is collected, the observations made and the results of tests and comparisons conducted are vigorously examined by the courts.
A systematic approach to crime scene investigation will ensure:
• good coordination between investigation and crime scene examination teams;
• an efficient, effective and thorough examination;
• less fatigue;
• orderly recording and collection of potential evidence;
• effective observations and deductions. Initial Assessment
Before attending the crime scene it is important to obtain the best possible assessment of the circumstances relating to the crime. It is also important to receive a briefing from the senior investigating officer who has been appointed to conduct the investigation. From a forensic viewpoint, a crime scene coordinator should be appointed. This person will remain the focal point of contact between all the players who will subsequently become involved in the forensic investigation. This person should be a senior crime scene investigator who will be responsible for chairing all subsequent meetings with investigating police and for the coordination of all aspects of the forensic investigation. This includes the allocation of human resources to multiple scenes.
Homicide will be discussed here as the model crime scene as this is the most serious crime against the person.
Forensic investigators are in the same position as investigating officers. They need answers to the same questions: Who? What? When? How? Where? Why? Some of these questions can be answered at the homicide scene.
• Who is the deceased?
• Who reported finding the deceased?
• Who saw or heard anything?
• What happened?
• What crime, if any, has been committed?
• What were the actions of the deceased?
• What were the actions of others involved?
• What are the witnesses saying?
• What injuries, marks, clothing and personal property are on the deceased?
• What is the estimated time of death?
• What possible weapons were used?
• What cause of death information can be gleaned from the deceased?
• What was the manner of death?
• When was the deceased discovered?
• When was the deceased last seen alive?
• When were the police notified?
• How did the deceased get to the death scene?
• How long has passed between injury and death?
• How did the deceased sustain the injuries?
• Where was the body discovered?
• Where did the death occur?
• Where was the deceased last seen?
• Where did the injuries occur?
• Where were the witnesses during the incident?
• Why was the deceased at this location?
• Why was a crime committed?
• Why was this type of weapon used?
• Why did this death occur at this time?
• Why was the deceased found at this time?
The more detail that can be obtained about what happened, the easier it is to determine what resources are required in examining the scene and the significance which is to be placed on certain aspects of the evidence.
An initial assessment of the crime scene will be made by the first officers attending the scene. The scene will be secured by them to an extent based on the information available at the time. The crime scene manager, who will normally be a senior member of the crime scene staff, must attend the scene at the earliest possible opportunity to take charge of the management of the crime scene. He or she will usually be accompanied by a crime scene investigator or a team of crime scene investigators who will undertake the crime scene examination. The size of the crime scene/s will dictate the amount of resources allocated to the particular incident. It is imperative that the crime scene manager has the authority to allocate the amount of resources required.
Once the crime scene is handed over to the crime scene manager, a reassessment of the scene security should be made to ensure that it is adequate. There should be a formal protocol used for the handing over of a crime scene. This ensures control and the maintenance of the scene’s chain of custody.
It is an essential element of any prosecution where forensic evidence is involved to prove the security of the scene and that it was maintained throughout the subsequent examination/investigation. Therefore the objectives of securing the crime scene are:
• To prevent evidence being destroyed or contaminated.
• To insure security of information; generally information is only released to the media by a media liaison officer or the senior investigating officer.
• To insure chain of custody of the scene is maintained as is necessary with any item of potential evidence.
• To remove from the scene all unnecessary persons including police officers and the media. It must be remembered that the more people present, the greater the potential for contamination and destruction of evidence. Large numbers of persons present will also inhibit the proper processing of a crime scene.
• To insure that all evidence has been recorded and recovered. This may include securing the scene until the results of the postmortem or scientific analysis are to hand.
There are a variety of methods for securing the crime scene, for example:
• posting guards;
• rope or printed tape cordons;
• the strategic placing of vehicles;
• the use of markers, flags, signs;
• locking rooms or areas within buildings or using the external walls of a building as the barrier;
• establishing safe walk areas (common approach path) with tape or purpose-built raised stepping plates.
Occupational Health and Safety
The well-being of the crime scene investigator/s is the primary responsibility of the crime scene manager. He or she must be aware of fatigue and well-being of the investigators. Appropriate protective clothing and equipment should be made available. Breaks should be organized for the forensic investigators and refreshments should be on hand during those breaks. Scene guards should also be part of the crime scene operation, regardless of the area they originate from. There should be an area designated where food and drink can be taken, equipment can be stored and rubbish can be accumulated.
All personnel on site should be briefed regarding:
• safety hazards;
• smoking and eating;
• the location of critical areas;
• the use of telephones and toilets.
Systematic Collection of Potential Evidence
After the general survey of the crime scene, the sequence in which evidence is to be collected and areas searched should be apparent. Priority should be given to:
• any items that are in danger of being destroyed by wind, rain, vehicles, animals, tides and human movement;
• the collection of any evidence that will enable access to a deceased or any critical area of the crime scene, such as along entry and exit paths;
• those critical areas of the crime scene that may render the most evidence or, once processed, enable the removal of a body, or the remainder of the examination to begin;
• any area that may give a quick indication as to the identity of the offender/s;
• any areas that, when processed, will permit the release of scene guards and other resources;
• a general examination of the remainder of the crime scene for potential evidence.
Systematic and Sequential Approach to the Search and Recovery of Potential Evidence
Some examples of collection procedures are as follows:
• Macroscopic evidence should be collected from an area before it is powdered for fingerprints.
• Bloodstains and forensic evidence should be collected from an area before searching for fingerprints.
• Sweepings from the floor around a safe need to be collected before the magna brush is used.
• Polished floors need to be examined first with oblique lighting to locate latent shoemarks/foot-prints.
• Visible fibers, hairs and other trace material should be collected from an area before applying general collection techniques, such as tapelifts, sweeping and vacuuming.
• Tapelift areas of interest before removing deceased persons, collecting sheets and blankets.
In searching critical areas, a search conducted in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction from a fixed point, or conducting a line strip search, makes for a systematic examination. A systematic approach reduces fatigue and ensures a more comprehensive search by minimizing the chance of missing potentially valuable evidentiary material.
Larger objects should be examined before smaller objects and all items should be packaged and labeled at the time of collection.
In order to conduct a thorough, systematic crime scene investigation a proforma should be developed for each activity. These will not be enlarged on here as each jurisdiction will have its own subtle differences, but a list of subject headings for each category of examination is given below. These should be prepre-pared checksheets that will provide the examiner with comprehensive notes taken during the examination; these proforma records should be available for:
• crime scene log – activities undertaken at the scene, including movements in and out of the scene;
• formal handover of the crime scene;
• list of environmental conditions at the crime scene;
• list of activities and observations at the crime scene;
• exhibit list;
• rough sketch of the crime scene;
• photographs taken at the scene;
• list of specialists attending and times they were involved in the examination.
Ongoing Case Management
Once the scene work is completed, the emphasis changes to the coordination of further examinations and the communication and flow of information of the results from forensic examinations to investigators and from investigators to forensic examiners. If it is not practical for the crime scene coordinator to chair further case management meetings, another senior crime scene investigator may be nominated to maintain that contact and coordination of the ongoing case management.
Management of major or minor crime is a matter of seizing control of the crime scene and then the coordination of resource management, along with a systematic approach to processing the scene.
Major crime scenes vary in size and complexity. Some may require many crime scene investigators; others which are uncomplicated may require only one or two crime scene investigators.
Overall scene management and the maintenance of a two-way communication flow are the two essential ingredients to successful scene management. Regular case management meetings must be held to keep all stakeholders abreast of the latest available information. These must be recorded in the case notes.