Forensic cops on the cutting edge
LISMORE’S crime scene officers aren’t your traditional cops.
Some still carry guns but it’s their high-tech equipment and training that carries the real punch.
While calling them armed academics might be going too far, most have postgraduate qualifications and their work depends on rigorous, independent, scientific analysis.
They remain arms-length from fellow investigators and victims, and their results must be able to withstand scrutiny from potentially any expert in court.
“Everything we do has to be reviewable. It’s very transparent today – we have to be able to demonstrate everything,” Det Snr Sgt Paine said.
“If the defence want to have another expert look at evidence we’re quite open to that.”
Related: Real-life CSI police in Lismore
Recent problems with forensic evidence in old cases in Queensland highlights the need for such scientific rigour.
“There’s a thing called the ‘CSI effect’ where juries take forensic evidence as gospel (and it) should never be read that way,” Det Snr Sgt Paine said.
“Since the Lindy Chamberlain case, forensic investigators use a strict process of analysis, comparison, evaluation and verification,” he said.
“The case-study is now part of our training and accreditation – that was a case of how it shouldn’t be.
“There can be no perception that we are being influenced to come up with a particular result.”
Today, Lismore’s Crime Scene Section provides specialised technical support for criminal, coronial and incident investigations by examining, assessing, recording and collecting physical evidence from crime scenes and presenting those findings to the courts.
Crime scene officers are on call 24 hours a day to attend crime scenes.
They examine blood-stain patterns, tool, shoe and tyre marks and make photographic comparisons as well as sketches and models of crime scenes.
They are also trained to assist in disaster victim identification with two Lismore-based officers assisting in Thailand after the last tsunami.
“We cover the basics like break-ins and car theft and more serious crime like sexual assault, malicious wounding, murder and suicides.
We get a lot of suicides up here, five to 10 a month – with one period last year where we had about 20 cases in a single month.
“Suicides and the death of children are by far the hardest on our officers,” said Det Snr Sgt Paine.
“We all have psychological checks every three months to make sure we’re still going all right.”