The University of South Wales was awarded £216,000 by the Leverhulme Trust to fund the ‘Homicide Investigation and Forensic Science: Tracing Processes, Analysing Practices (HIFS) Project’. The project ran between January 2015 and December 2018, and involved a collaboration across three universities. It was led by Professor Fiona Brookman, who undertook the research and fieldwork alongside Dr Helen Jones (both from the Centre for Criminology at USW). They worked closely with Professor Robin Williams (Northumbria University) and Professor Jim Fraser (University of Strathclyde).
The HIFS Project was the first British ethnographic study of the role of forensic sciences and technologies in the investigation of homicide. Notably, it included a broad range of forensic disciplines and digital technologies, such as DNA profiling, fingerprint examination, blood pattern analysis, ballistics interpretation, trace evidence analysis, and digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and CCTV.
Data were gathered in relation to 44 homicide investigations across four police services and included the analysis of many hundreds of case papers and court documents. Data also included 144 interviews with practitioners (e.g. senior investigating officers, detectives, forensic scientists, crime scene managers and digital forensic practitioners) and fieldnotes made during 700 hours of observations of ‘live’ homicide investigations. During which, Professor Brookman and Dr Jones entered crime scenes, accompanied detectives on house-to-house and CCTV enquiries, and attended daily briefings, forensic strategy meetings, barristers’ case conferences and different stages of the trial process.
Between 2018 and 2020, Professor Brookman and Dr Jones disseminated insight briefing papers (see here for ‘other work’) and presented findings to over 300 practitioners and policy-makers involved in homicide investigation, forensic science and digital evidence. These included presentations to the national Homicide Working Group, the National Crime Agency's Major Crime Investigative Support Team and forensic science providers. These presentations and publications have assisted police, forensic scientists, digital forensic practitioners and policy-makers in the investigation of homicide, have informed strategy development and have led to adoption of more effective collaborative working practices. Professor Brookman and Dr Jones are also collaborating closely with the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council CCTV Specialist Capabilities Programme (see here for our ‘impact on homicide investigation’).
Professor Brookman and Dr Jones have also published a number of journal articles, exploring in greater detail the methods, processes and challenges of homicide investigation (see here for ‘articles in peer-reviewed journals’). They are continuing to analyse their unique and extensive dataset.
This CCTV research report is based on analysis of data from the Homicide Investigation and Forensic Science (HIFS) project.
The HIFS project used ethnographic research methods (observations, interviews and document analysis) to explore how forensic sciences and technologies (FSTs) contribute to the police investigation of homicide in Great Britain.
We explored a broad range of forensic disciplines and technologies including DNA profiling, fingerprint examination, ballistics interpretation, trace evidence analysis, and digital evidence from mobile phones, computers and CCTV.
The report outlines the project aims and methods, before focusing specifically on the contributions, challenges and risks associated with using CCTV in homicide investigation.
In almost all of the 44 homicide investigations (95%), CCTV featured in some capacity, for example, to identify (or eliminate) suspects, to link suspects to key exhibits, to show movements and associations, or to support the prosecution case.
However, more detailed analysis revealed that tasks such as recovering, viewing and interpreting CCTV footage were not straight forward and that the integrity and provenance of CCTV ‘evidence’ may be compromised by risky practices and decisions.
For example, those tasked with retrieving CCTV footage do not always have the necessary skills or technology to do so and sometimes CCTV footage is ‘lost’ (i.e. recorded over) before detectives are able to recover it.
Poor-quality footage also presents particular challenges and risks to detectives and CCTV officers in trying to make sense of images and deciding whether or not to utilise ‘experts’ to help view or interpret images. Currently, these shortcomings may impact on the reliability of CCTV evidence that is presented and heard at court.
The report includes a series of considerations and recommendations for police and other national agencies involved in providing or using CCTV, to offset the risks associated with the retrieval, interpretation and presentation of CCTV footage during criminal investigations.
The project was awarded £216,000 from the Leverhulme Trust and involved a collaboration across three universities: USW (Prof. Fiona Brookman and Dr Helen Jones), Northumbria University (Prof. Robin Williams) and University of Strathclyde (Prof. Jim Fraser). All data collection was undertaken by Professor Fiona Brookman and Dr Helen Jones.
King, William R., William Wells, Charles Katz, Edward Maguire, and James Frank. (2013).
Opening the black box of NIBIN: A descriptive process and outcome evaluation of the use of NIBIN and its effects on criminal investigations.
This report outlines the methods and findings from a study of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) that was funded by the National Institute of Justice.
This report begins with a brief description of ballistics imaging and the history and operation of NIBIN.
Next, the research methodology and data sources are described. Finally, the findings and recommendations resulting from this study are presented.
The study is based on data from four sources. NIBIN usage data (inputs and hits) for all NIBIN sites, detailed hit files from 19 NIBIN sites, survey data from crime labs and firearms sections within crime labs, and information derived from visits to 10 NIBIN sites including details on 65 criminal investigations that involved a NIBIN hit.
The data reveal considerable variation in the local implementation of NIBIN and significant time delays in identifying hits. Generally, NIBIN hit reports do not aid investigators, in part because of delays in identifying hits. Although NIBIN has tremendous potential as a tactical and strategic tool, it is rarely used for strategic purposes.
Despite these issues, the research team still identified a number of NBIN sites that use NIBIN effectively.
Read the final report for National Institute of Justice grant 2010-DN-BX-0001.
Article, blogs and topical features from our academics and partners
Professor Fiona Brookman and Dr. Helen Jones from the Centre for Criminology at USW submitted written evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into forensic science
Professor Fiona Brookman and Duncan McGarry’s article 'The Family Liaison Officer’ was published in the latest edition of the American magazine 'Police Chief’
Professor Fiona Brookman was invited to talk about her research 'Homicide Investigation Research: International Impacts’
The University of South Wales has been awarded £216,531 by the Leverhulme Trust to fund a research project which will examine the role of forensic science in homicide investigations. The study is led by USW criminologist Professor Fiona Brookman who will work alongside colleagues at Northumbria and Strathclyde universities.
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Professor Bill Wells, of Sam Houston State University, is currently working on a multi-disciplinary project with the Houston (TX) Police Department that focuses upon DNA evidence in sexual assaults. Full details of the project can be found on the website at: www.houstonsakresearch.org
A major piece of research by Professor Fiona Brookman is examining the characteristics of difficult-to-solve murders – and how detectives may be able to confront them by changing their practices.
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Roderic Broadhurst, Professor of Criminology and Ross Maller, Professor of Probability and Statistics at the Australian National University ask if murderers re-offend and do murderers have violent histories?
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