Tech on the frontline - Yorkshire CSI


In this taster for the October issue of the BAPCO Journal, editor Philip Mason talks to the head of operations at West Yorkshire Police Regional Scientific Support Services Peter Arnold, about the use of communications technology during crime scene investigation.

Could you give me an overview of the Regional Scientific Support Service and its history? 
The RSSS is a regional policing function, hosted by West Yorkshire Police. We deliver forensics to West Yorkshire, as well as North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Humberside. Our headquarters is in Wakefield, with 14 offices across all four force areas.   

All of our staff are West Yorkshire employees, regardless of where they work. The benefit of that is that they’re directly under our command, which means that they’re already vetted for all of our IT systems, and we can issue them with whatever technology they need straight away.
We can also deploy staff across force boundaries very easily, because we’re responsible for their welfare, health and safety, and so on. Previously, the local force would have been responsible for that. 
In terms of geography, we cover around 11 per cent of England, which works out at something like 11,000 square kilometres. Our operating bases are the HQ which I mentioned, CSI hubs, as well as forensic collision units. 
What’s a typical day in the life of a crime scene investigation officer? What technology do they use? 
We use Airwave for priority communications between all our staff and the control room. We also give frontline officers a 4G Samsung Active Tab with the Pronto app, thereby allowing access to all relevant incident information. The tablets have reduced our Airwave usage by around 35 per cent.
On a typical day, the CSI officer will come on duty at their local base, where they’ll book onto their Airwave terminal and tablet device. They then select an incident list within the geographical area, and view what calls are outstanding. The control room will ultimately allocate who does what, according to who’s available for work and what the priority is.
At the crime scene, the householder – let’s say it was a burglary – will show them around the property, and the CSI will formulate a strategy about how they’re going to undertake an examination. They then document what additional information has come to light, as well their intended plan going forward. That includes what areas of the property they’re going to examine, why, as well as what techniques they’re going to use. 
What would they search for, and how does the technology fit into that? 
The CSI would search for things like fingerprints, marks made by footwear and so on. These might already be visible, but they could also use powder and lighting techniques to enhance them. They would also look for potential sources of DNA – blood if the intruder has cut themselves, for instance. 
Once identified, they photograph the finger and footwear marks, take samples of DNA, and document the actions they’ve carried out, using the tablet. They’d then make a conclusion. 

Changing the subject slightly, there are currently any number of TV programmes dedicated to crime scene investigation. What do you make of them – are they realistic at all? 
I have seen CSI Miami and all those kinds of programmes, and they are quite unrealistic, to be fair. I roll my eyes sometimes. 
The head guy in CSI Miami [David Caruso] seems to take it on himself to do everything. He goes to the crime scene, recovers the evidence, interviews the suspects, attends the post-mortem and so on. In reality, we have a very defined and specific roles as crime scene investigators. That basically means attending the scene, assessing it, and then recovering as much useful evidence as we can.
This isn’t to say that it’s not exciting, but it can also be repetitive. It’s not every day that you’re dealing with a serial killer.

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Media contact

Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216