CSI Vienna: UNODC launches forensic tool for crime fighters

UNODC/M. Borovansky-König21 April 2009 - A murder is committed and police officers rush to the scene. Carefully, they secure and preserve the crime scene and document the evidence. Investigators examine fingerprints on the door and blood on the victim's clothes. This enables the police to identify a suspect. But what if police officers do not realize the importance of protecting the scene? What if physical evidence is not gathered because knowledge, equipment and skills are lacking? What if no forensic laboratories exist in the country?

Crime scenes present major scientific challenges. Police officers and crime scene investigators need tools to recover, collect and store physical evidence. Forensic scientists must analyse a wide range of physical evidence. UNODC can help. The Office assists Member States in gaining access to quality forensic services based on internationally accepted standards, and contributes to the use of data and information for more evidence-based operations and policymaking.

During the current session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, UNODC is releasing a manual entitled Crime Scene and Physical Evidence Awareness for Non-Forensic Personnel. The International Committee for the Red Cross and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also contributed to this short, non-technical manual, which highlights the importance of best practices at crime scenes and explains why some actions are key to ensuring evidence admissibility in court.

The tool is aimed at "first responders" and other non-forensic personnel, such as law enforcement agents, human rights officers and members of the judiciary.  It also compiles types of physical evidence that can be gathered at crime scenes, such as biological materials, identity documents and firearms or explosives, and sets out health and safety considerations.

Guidelines are also being developed to assess the needs of forensic services and infrastructure and to establish forensic laboratories. UNODC is working to develop training courses to build and strengthen forensic awareness and basic crime scene investigation capacities worldwide, as well as basic investigation kits containing, for example, gloves and collection bags.