Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science

Crime Scene Examiners and Volume Crime Investigations: An Empirical Study of Perception and Practice

A. Ludwig, J. Fraser & R. Williams. Forensic Science Policy & Management, 3(2), pp. 53-61. (2012).


Most police forces in the UK employ specially trained crime scene examiners (CSEs) to provide forensic science support for the investigation of crime. Previous research (Bradbury & Feist 2005; Williams 2004) has shown wide variations in the management, deployment, and performance of this staff group. There is also evidence that informal elements of professional and organizational culture, in particular the role characterizations of crime scene examiners, also have a bearing on their effective use in the investigation of high-volume property crime. These issues are explored as part of a more extensive study of forensic science provision in the two largest police forces in Scotland and by the four main Scottish Police Services Authority Forensic Services (SPSA FS) units. A range of staff in these organizations described their understandings of the role of crime scene examiners—as evidence collectors, forensic investigators, specialist advisers, or any combination of these. While two thirds (62%) of respondents recognized the complexity and scope of the role of CSEs, including its cognitive elements, a substantial minority (38%) categorized the role as having a single element—collecting evidence—and therefore perceived it as limited to largely mechanical in character. The reasons for and consequences of this perception are considered, and the article concludes with a challenge to reconsider this limited view of what crime scene examiners can contribute to volume crime investigations.

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