Expressing the value of forensic science in policing

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 2017, 49 (5), pp. 489 - 501
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© 2016 Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. Only a small part of forensic science activities scattered across criminal justice systems is the object of scientific scrutiny, and is taken into account when evaluating the added-value brought by this discipline. Even in its more restricted definition, forensic science faces many embarrassing questions about its capacity to provide valid and reliably interpreted information in court. The inflation of control mechanisms increases costs and reduces the scope or availability of forensic information. The viability of forensic science, viewed through this lens, is questioned. To address this challenge, it is imperative to validly express forensic science contributions that are otherwise diluted across earlier processes. These include abductive and inductive species of inferences used in crime investigation, crime analysis and criminal intelligence. The ‘scientificity’ of these processes may be questioned, but it is not contested that they largely determine the global outcome of justice systems. As a result, they cannot be ignored. To unlock the debate, it is proposed to turn the forensic science focus from means (instruments, techniques, methods) to ends (what is the problem, what are the objectives?). This perspective naturally leads to proactive models of policing. It also provides possible frameworks to express various uses of the information conveyed by traces for solving problems. Reframed forensic science contributions are more validly expressed and the current debate can ultimately be transcended.
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