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Page Contents:
  • BC Firm Puts Odds on Who'll Stay Clean
  • Tampa's Crowd-Scanning Software Misses Crooks
  • Post-Shipman: Reforming the British Coroner's Service
  • Do Fingerprints Lie?
  • Forensics Resources Online
  • Crime News at 2nd Sight Magazine

BC Firm Puts Odds on Who'll Stay Clean

August 25, 2003 -- Triant Technologies has developed a software program that predict the chances of criminal offenders returning to a life of crime if released into society. Triant Technologies plans to design applications of the Corrections Risk Analysis System (C-RAS) for homeland security and the industries of finance, insurance, and law enforcement.

C-RAS uses advanced pattern-recognition technology to compare an offender with a database of already profiled criminals who have been released. An offender's risk to re-offend and capacity for violence is modeled on 80 factors, including alcohol use, past crimes, family/marital relations, and employability. The program is also used to determine which areas should be targeted for treatment.

According to Kevin Lorette of Triant Psychometrics, a unit of Triant Technologies, the system is based on four years' worth of data gathered from Wisconsin's prison system. The computer program has been proven to have an 85 to 90 per cent accuracy rate in predicting recidivism within a release window of two years in a study conducted last year in Wisconsin. The results are expected to be universal across North America.

Neil Boyd, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, is skeptical about the reliability and universal applicability of novel technology that is impressing corrections officials in the US, because penalties for crimes vary from state to state and between the United States and Canada. Boyd questions the applicability of such a program across the U.S. and Canada given the variation in penalties for various crimes in different states and provinces.

He is also dubious about the reliability of number crunching as a basis for making criminal justice decisions. "I think parole boards have always thought that theres a danger in reducing the decision about parole to nothing more than statistical compilation or statistical analysis," says Boyd.

Lorette says the C-RAS is not meant to be the only tool used by officials to decide who is released and when. -- Edited and excerpted from articles at the Vancouver Sun and SFU News

Post-Shipman: Reforming the British Coroner's Service

July 24, 2003 -- Harold Fredrick Shipman was convicted on 31 January 2000 of the murder of 15 of his patients while he was a General Practitioner near Manchester. He may have murdered many more patients while he was a GP in Hyde and Todmorden. Shipman, acting as coroner, was also responsible for certifying his victims' cause of death. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and in February 2000. An independent private inquiry began in order to establish what changes to current systems should be made to safeguard patients in the future.

A review of the coroner's service in England and Wales and Northern Ireland was published in June 2003. This was followed on 14 July by the Shipman inquiry report of Dame Janet Smith, which dealt with the role of coroners. The review and inquiry has yielded some proposals to improve the present system. Implementation of these proposals will result in major changes.

The coroner is central to death investigation in the English legal system. The current system is fragmented, legalistic, and inadequately funded. The coroner was exported to many Commonwealth countries. In the United States and Canada, many states and provinces have abolished the coroner's system, replacing it with a medical examiner's system. Other systems have been modernized, notably in Ontario, Canada, and Victoria, Australia.

The Shipman inquiry proposes greater medical input. The inquiry rightly recognizes that many of the decisions taken by the coroner, or frequently the coroner's officer, are medical. The inquiry proposes medical coroners and legally qualified judicial coroners. The medical coroner would have the responsibility for the medical investigation. Where there is a need for a wider investigation the judicial coroner would supervise and would conduct inquests where appropriate. Properly trained coroner's investigators, headed by a chief investigator, would replace the current system of coroner's officers.

Postmortem rates would fall under both the newly proposed systems. Postmortem examinations should meet approved standards, with greater use of toxicology. The inquiry proposes random and targeted checks with fuller investigation of selected deaths.

Public inquests have been criticised, often being considered intrusive or perfunctory. However, the public inquest does provide a public review of controversial deaths. This is particularly important where the death involved law enforcement agencies or where someone has been deprived of their liberty. Both the review and inquiry see a reduction in mandatory inquests, with other inquests being discretionary. -- Edited and excerpted from the British Medical Journal and The Shipman Inquiry

Do Fingerprints Lie?

The gold standard of forensic evidence is now being challenged.

Late one afternoon in the spring of 1998, a police detective named Shirley McKie stood by the sea on the southern coast of Scotland and thought about ending her life. A promising young officer, the thirty-five-year-old McKie had become an outcast among her colleagues in the tiny hamlet of Strathclyde. A year earlier, she had been assigned to a murder case in which an old woman was stabbed through the right eye with a pair of sewing scissors. Within hours of the killing, a team of forensic specialists had begun working their way through the victim's house. Along with blood, hair, and fibers, the detectives found some unexpected evidence: one of the prints lifted from the room where the murder took place apparently matched the left thumb of Detective McKie.

Crime scenes are often contaminated by fingerprints belonging to police officers, and investigators quickly learn to eliminate them from the pool of suspects. But McKie said that she had never entered the house. Four experts from the Scottish Criminal Record Office -- the agency that stores and identifies fingerprints for Scotland's police -- insisted, however, that the print was hers. Though McKie held to her story, even her father doubted her. "I love my daughter very much,'' Iain McKie, who served as a police officer in Scotland for more than thirty years, told me earlier this year. "But when they said the print was Shirley's I have to admit I assumed the worst. My entire career I had heard that fingerprints never lie."

Nobody actually suspected McKie of murder, and in fact the victim's handyman, David Asbury, was charged with the crime. The sole physical evidence against him consisted of two fingerprints -- one of his, lifted from an unopened Christmas gift inside the house, and one of the victim's, found on a biscuit tin in Asbury's home. The last thing prosecutors needed was for their own witness to raise questions in court about the quality of the evidence. Yet McKie did just that -- repeating under oath that she had never entered the house. Asbury was convicted anyway, but Scottish prosecutors were enraged by McKie's testimony. As far as they were concerned, McKie had not only lied; she had challenged one of the evidentiary pillars of the entire legal system. Despite their victory in the murder trial, they charged McKie with perjury.

Excerpted from the full article:

Tampa's Crowd-Scanning Software Misses Crooks

August 21, 2003 MIAMI -- Police thought facial recognition software could be a great way to spot criminals or missing children in crowds. Now police in Tampa, Florida, are removing the software, which is linked to street surveillance cameras, from the Ybor City entertainment district after the 2-year-old scheme, the first such deployment in the United States, failed to produce any arrests. The surveillance cameras, in place since 1997, will remain.

City Police Chief Bennie Holder said the department had decided not to renew its annual agreement with Identix Inc. on using the company's Facial Recognition Software. "While the software proved reliable in testing, there have been no positive identifications or arrests attributed to the software," the department said in a statement.

Civil rights activists deplored the use of the software as "Big Brother" on the street. Civil rights groups hailed its removal. When Tampa installed it in June 2001, they denounced the software as an intrusion that went beyond simple surveillance cameras because it ran images past a police database and sought to match faces with criminals or missing people in the database.

"We're pleased they've decided to go ahead and remove the face recognition technology," Darlene Williams, who heads the Tampa branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said on Thursday. "Before, every person who walked down the street was subjected to an electronic police line-up without their consent."

Police spokesman Bob Guidara said the decision to end the test program -- which was paid for by the company -- was based on the fact it had not produced results, not on the privacy issues. He declined to comment on whether the lack of results was the fault of the software or the database used.

Meir Kahtan, a spokesman for Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Identix, said in a brief statement: "Identix has always stated that this technology requires safeguards and that as a society we need to be comfortable with its use." Kahtan said the company was comfortable with the decision of the Tampa police.

Identix is a security technology company with products including fingerprint readers and other identity technology. The face recognition product is used in a similar form in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is also used in the London district of Newham and in Birmingham, England.

-- Edited and excerpted from the article by Frances Kerry for Reuters

Forensics Study Resource Links
The Science of Crime

AEGIS  Crime and accident support group that provides case analysis, crime an d accident reconstruction and computer graphics for court room resentations. for thought... This site is too kewl!

Zeno's Forensic Site  Updated. Format is easy to use, offering mystery and crime writers unending information. If you can't find it here its not yet known.

Forensics Resource and Criminal Law Search: Awesome crime and mystery writer's resource, check out the "A Beginner's Primer on the Investigation of Forensic Evidence."

Forensic Entomology: The use of insect knowledge in the investigation of crimes and civil disputes.

Handbook of Forensic Services: Forensic information site run by the FBI details procedure for evidence submission, examination, and crime scene security and investigation.

Reddy's Forensics Webpage: The website of a 32 year veteran of Forensic Medicine Reddy Chamakura. Site offers a wealth of knowledge and links.

The Forensic Science Resource Page: The Tennessee Forensics and Criminal Law Resource Link Center.

Hardin MD ~ Toxicology & Poisoning: Maintained by the University of Iowa this site contains information links on environmental, chemical, disease, bio-terrorism poisoning, medical and toxicology.

Centers for Disease Control: Yep the CDC, I went looking for a link and learned all about Ebola and SARS. Planning an epidemic in your next book this is your informational site. This is a researcher's heaven.

Firearms Tutorial: Before you shoot someone know what you're writing. Site offers a working knowledge of firearms, ammunition, the nature of injuries that can be produced in the body, and the investigative techniques employed by the forensic pathologist in assessing firearms injuries.

PathMax: An incredible site of more than 3100 links to medical information sites; from autopsy, to veterinary Pathology, Bioterrorism to Forensic Pathology.

Dr. Zeno's Forensic Science Site: The Criminal Mind

Zeno's Forensic Web User List: Zeno Geradts is a forensic scientist at the Netherlands Forensic Institute of the Ministry of Justice at the Digital Evidence section in the area of forensic (video) image processing and pattern recognition.
-- Thanks to Char at Criminal Minds

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