CSI, Real life: Forensic Services Unit fingerprint technician Snr Const Matthew Thompson conducts a fingerprint analysis at the Lismore Crime Scene Section at the old Lismore police station building.
CSI, Real life: Forensic Services Unit fingerprint technician Snr Const Matthew Thompson conducts a fingerprint analysis at the Lismore Crime Scene Section at the old Lismore police station building. David Nielsen

Real-life CSI police in Lismore

A REVOLUTION is going on quietly behind the majestic doors of Lismore’s old police station.

Inside, 14 highly qualified forensic investigators are solving crimes in ways only dreamed of a few years ago.

For a unit with only five officers in 2002, its growth shows the increasing importance of forensic services in regional policing.

Forensic experts, investigators and SOCOs (Scene of Crime Officers) analyse evidence and reconstruct incidents using science some thought only existed on television.

While the Lismore laboratory is the jewel in the crown of the Northern Zone, which also takes in Coffs Harbour, Tamworth and Inverell, the unit’s officer-in-charge, Detective Senior Sergeant Noel Paine, goes one step further.

“Lismore is probably the best forensic facility in the State – including Sydney,” he said.

This is not parochial bias, he has seen them all.

“They have the same equipment down in Sydney, but it’s the way it’s laid out here – everything just flows really nicely,” he said.

Related: Forensic cops on the cutting edge

While the unit does not operate under the umbrella of the local area commands, Richmond crime manager, Detective Inspector Greg Moore, said its presence has had a direct correlation to the high clear-up rates of local crime and difficult identifications of deceased victims.

“There have been a number of recent high-profile cases that have been resolved through the use of DNA and fingerprint identification,” he said.

The unit’s new home was restored and outfitted after the commissioning of the new Lismore police station in Zadoc Street in 2008 and has been operational since last year.

In just a few years the facility has tripled successful crime scene identifications and is changing the way investigations are conducted.

“DNA has been around for years, but now we can pick up trace evidence from skin cells left behind from just a graze to the skin,” Det Snr Sgt Paine said.

“Since NAFIS (the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System) went digital last October, police can now instantly identify suspects and persons of interest at the click of a keystroke.”

NAFIS is a computerised fingerprint system designed to search, identify and record both ‘charge’ fingerprints and ‘latent’ fingerprint impressions within NSW, and cross-match them with interstate police databases.

“The new technology is making our job much more efficient,” Det Snr Sgt Paine said.

“Most police stations now have live-scan terminals and the prints are loaded straight on to NAFIS.”

Coupled with the current roll-out of mobile fingerprint scanners in police cars, officers can now collect prints off suspects on location, load them on to NAFIS and receive the results in the field almost immediately.

Police can also establish crime scene to crime scene links through DNA evidence even before an identification is made – giving investigators the ability to nip serial crimes in the bud.

The techniques and methods used in Lismore are surprisingly similar to those shown on US television shows like CSI and NCIS.

Unlike such shows where all resources are devoted to a single case, the key difference is the unit is usually working on a backlog of about 20 important cases at any given time, and the SOCOs are visiting up to five new crime scenes a day across the region. Notevery crime scene yields forensic results.

So do forensic police watch the TV crime shows?

“Well, yeah, the science is valid,” Det Snr Sgt Paine conceded, though ‘somewhat dramatised and over-simplified’.

“I did watch CSI the first year, but these days I prefer watching the crime documentaries.”



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