CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
20th, April, 2013
Criminal investigation is an important discipline in law enforcement. This is crucial for offering solutions to crime at different levels, including the local and state levels. Criminal investigation is thus, a practice, which involves a systematic observation or inquiry into a crime, and might involve recording of evidence. For an effective practice of criminal investigation, it is paramount that one possesses specific scientific knowledge through studying, as well as the necessary relevant experience in the field of criminal investigation. In criminal investigation, depending on the nature of the crime, investigators might take different durations investigating a crime. This therefore, might range between a few weeks to even years (Becker 2005).
The practice of criminal investigation begins with reporting or suspicion that a crime has occurred. This therefore, presents a problem to an investigator, who first has to determine the claim that a crime has occurred. In criminal investigation, an investigator might be a detective, a police officer, a special agent, or any other investigator in a government or private body, which is charged with jurisdictional task of conducting criminal investigation. In any country, the definition of and clarification of what a crime is, is the responsibility of government body, such as the state legislature (Becker 2005).
Today, the role of criminal investigators has changed considerably, compared to previous years. Change in the practice of criminal investigation is a result of various factors, which have emerged only in the contemporary times. One major issue that is a source of a myriad of changes in the practice of criminal investigation is the rapid advancement in technology (Harfield & Harfield 2008). This factor is responsible for many changes in the society today, including criminal investigation. With technology advancements, there have risen new types of crimes, which did not exist in the past. Some of the new crimes witnessed today because of new technology include child pornography, internet stalking, cyber-crime, terrorism, and theft of valuable cultural objects and art, among many others (Newburn, Williamson & Wright 2012).
Therefore, this calls for investigators to train on how to handle the new emerging crimes in society as a result of new technologies and innovation. This essay therefore, focuses on the contemporary issues in criminal investigation, and the ways in which these issues have changed different elements in the practice of criminal investigation, as well as the role of criminal investigators today.
The new types of crimes mentioned, which have emerged because of technological advances have also led to the improvements of law enforcement agencies in various countries in order to accommodate, and address them. These improvements in law enforcement agencies are mainly in the form of structural changes of the organizations in order to include the new crimes and pave way for their investigations. This therefore, has resulted in the specialization of criminal investigators (Newburn, Williamson & Wright 2012). Unlike in the past, where investigators were charged with general tasks, today, these have been forced to specialize in specific crimes, in order to address different crimes effectively. In the past, criminal investigators would be assigned by their units to perform investigations on crimes linked to property, such as robbery, and crimes considered of high degree, such as homicide and sexual crimes. However, today, investigators are required to address and focus on specific crimes, which they are duly trained and able to handle (Newburn, Williamson & Wright 2012).
In the contemporary criminal investigation, there has arisen the aspect of private investigation. Today, the private sector also has an important role to play in criminal investigation. In the past, criminal investigation was a discipline and field that was solely dominated by the government, and not the private sector (Palmiotto 2012). Today however, because of the rampant increase in the levels of crime in most countries, it has become crucial that the private sector also indulges in the field of criminal investigation, to help reduce and address crime in various countries (Ross 2011). For instance, today, instead of relying on the government agencies for criminal investigations, most private companies have developed their own distinct investigative arms, which mainly focus on the issue of crime in the organization. Such arms therefore, consider crime situations both inside and outside the company. Company employees or any individual who has a regular access into the inside of a company might perpetuate crimes within a company. On the other hand, individuals or groups, who have various ill motives on a company, might perpetuate crimes against the company in order to achieve their missions, which might cause harm to a company. Therefore, companies today have deemed it important to own their own branches of criminal investigation, as this will help lower the risk of crime in the company (Ross 2011).
Today, private policing has become an important issue in criminal investigation. There is an increased number of the for-hire security agencies, which is a vital element in policing and criminal investigation. For instance, in the Unites States of America, many municipal departments today involve the private security agencies in their activities, which center on criminal investigation and crime prevention (Ross 2011). In addition, there are various cases witnessed today, where criminal investigators or police resign from their work in the public sector, to join the private sector, as private investigators, and are thus, employed by the private security agencies. There is therefore, an interface between public and private policing and criminal investigation today. This therefore, has considerable influence on the operations and function of the police and criminal investigation today (Ross 2011).
In addition, the increased level of technology today, which has influenced various elements in the world also, has immense effect on criminal investigation. This is therefore, responsible for the different types of changes in the practice of criminal investigation today. These changes in criminal investigation due to advanced technology have changed various procedures and activities in criminal investigation. Most criminal investigation activities today are conducted in quite a different manner, compared to how they were practiced in the past. Therefore, because of the increased technology, the practice of criminal investigation has gained additional tools, which were absent in the past. These tools are both human and scientific in nature (Palmiotto 2012). Therefore, these have attached greater emphasis on the function and importance of forensic science or the crime laboratory and the general employment and reliance on technology as a major support of the criminal investigation practice. The most popular technological advance in criminal investigation is the use of the DNA analysis. This is an important aspect of forensic science, which is highly applicable and useful to the practice of criminal investigation today (Palmiotto 2012).
Forensic science has a positive influence on criminal investigation today. This enables the criminal investigators to investigate and solve crime case in the most effective ways (Stelfox 2009). Forensic science heavily relies on technology. Therefore, since technology continues to evolve, the field of forensic science too continues to grow. This way, forensic science continues to develop different new theories and techniques, thus increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the field, which is on a great demand today. This field of forensic science is of major importance to the process of criminal investigation, to various court processes, and different levels of security. Prior to the development of the field of forensic science, many cases in the criminal investigation process were dependent on witnesses, who either confessed or gave testimonies concerning different events related to the crime under investigation. However, the development of forensic science has changed all this, since today, police and other investigators are in a position to gather relevant evidence, which they will analyze and process in an efficient manner, without relying on the witnesses. This has therefore, resulted in great efficiency in the field of criminal investigation, and relative reduction in some types of crimes committed today (Stelfox 2009).
Today, when a criminal is hunted down by use of forensic science techniques, it is easier for him or her to be traced if they commit a similar crime in the future, since their important personal details, including DNA information, remain with the investigative unit (James 2012). However, because of the advanced technology today, criminals have also adopted major creativity in the way they execute crime. This therefore, poses a challenge to forensic science and criminal investigation, since these must develop new tools and techniques to respond to new strategies in crime (Stelfox 2009). In addition, criminal investigation and forensic science have to improve on their present investigative tools and techniques, which are employed in the investigative process. Other technological advances such as use of sophisticated software in crime analysis is important in criminal investigation, as this helps investigators today in pattern development, suspect identification, and linkage of similar criminal activity. Nonetheless, with the new technology, which is employed in criminal investigation today, and which has increased efficiency and accuracy, there are many doubts that are cast to the past practice and activities of criminal investigation. For instance, it might now appear that processes of evidence collection and analysis, and interviewing and interrogation conducted in the past might have been erroneous, since these cannot be compared to the present forensic science, with regard to accuracy. Therefore, it is highly probable that in the past, innocent people were erroneously considered guilty of offences and crime (Turvey 2011).
The role of criminal investigators has considerably changed today, compared to the past. In the contemporary world, there is the challenge of nontraditional crimes in the field of criminal investigation. Unlike the traditional crimes in the past, which involved personal and property crimes, the nontraditional crimes committed today are more concerned with technology and the use of computers to facilitate crime and criminal activities. Therefore, criminal investigators have to increase their expertise in order to handle the new and emerging nontraditional crimes. However, according to Hinduja (2007), most people today, including in the United States, are more concerned and worried about traditional crimes, compared to nontraditional crimes. Therefore, in the US, the investigative units pay more attention to the traditional crimes, compared to the nontraditional crimes. Hinduja (2007, p.6) defines computer crime as “Any illegal act fostered by a computer, whether the computer id an object of a crime, an instrument used to commit crime, or a repository of evidence related to a crime.” The most common computer crime includes child pornography trafficking, e-commerce fraud, software piracy, and breaches of network security, among others. This has therefore, introduced considerable difficulties in investigation, given the high levels of technology and expertise employed by criminals in computer crimes. In addition, sometimes it is problematic for investigators to detect and track computer crimes. What makes this more complicated is the ability of the criminals to assume anonymity, which is possible when using internet (Harfield & Harfield 2008).
In the past years, investigators solved traditional crimes by basing on the information, which the victims and witnesses presented to them. Therefore, most traditional crimes were solved solely using least amount of investigations. However, this is not the case with computer crime, which has emerged in the contemporary world. The role of a criminal investigator in computer crime is more advanced and important, compared to their role in the traditional crimes. More effort and expertise, including forensic analysis of computer hard discs, is needed by a criminal investigator to address computer crimes today (Hinduja 2007). Nonetheless, most evidence in computer crimes is digital in nature, thus extra care has to be taken to protect it from destruction, which is easy. In addition, collecting digital evidence is more technically complex, and highly involving, compared to evidence gathering in traditional crimes. Furthermore, economic factors do not allow some investigative agencies to own the required standards, expertise, and equipment necessary to address computer crime. Therefore, such investigative agencies rely on outsourcing from other agencies, which have the required forensic analysis personnel and equipment. According to Hinduja (2007), this case reflects negatively on the investigative agencies today. The number of computer crimes is on the increase, yet most law enforcement agencies lack the required expertise and skilled personnel, as well as the necessary forensic analysis equipment to deal with computer crimes (Welch n.d). The limited resources is a factor that has led to delay in investigations. Today, there are backlogs and many computers in investigative agencies, which are lined up for analysis by a technician (Hinduja 2007). This situation therefore, compromises the efficiency with which investigations are performed and criminals are acquitted, thus, putting the overall justice system in jeopardy.
The use of informants in criminal investigation is another contemporary issue, which continues to raise concern. Use of informants is a method, which police and other investigators use to gather evidence and information about a crime. Considerable controversy has emerged over the process due to different factors involved. Informants were highly used in past criminal investigations, but today, there remains controversy over the use of informants. In the past informants were used because these were cost-effective and excellent, thus preferred by the police for evidence gathering (Douglas et al 1986). However, today, there are changing trends in the way informants are used in criminal investigations. This is partly influenced by the high rise of terrorism and terrorist activities globally. With terrorism, there comes a need for more effective methods of evidence gathering. Therefore, the police unit has identified use of informants as a less efficient method of gathering evidence. Although using informants is cost-effective, it cannot guarantee effective delivery of accurate evidence in high degree crimes such as terrorism. It is argued today that, the reliance and use of informants might bear detrimental effects on various investigative agencies. These detrimental effects include comprising safety standards with regard to terrorism; therefore, putting citizens at risk, since the use of informants cannot produce reliable evidence. In addition, many people today disagree with the use of informants in criminal investigation, citing the fact that sometimes criminals disguise themselves as informants in order to protect themselves from punishment (Turvey 2011).
Ethics and ethical issues are an important factor in the contemporary criminal investigation. The techniques employed by investigators in criminal investigation, are expected by law to adhere to the ethical standards, including accountability (Walker 2007). In the United States, the police department values the aspect of accountability in its practice. Therefore, all agents and investigators in the policing unit are expected to be accountable for their actions during criminal investigation (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2006,). Nonetheless, all investigative agencies and investigators in other law enforcement units are also required to uphold ethics and the principle of accountability. Accountability is vital, as it ensures that an investigator achieves their goals regarding lawfulness and legitimacy during their practice of criminal investigation. In the policing unit, lawfulness implies compliance with the law, while legitimacy refers to the notion that the conduct of police is in line with the law, and adheres to the expectations of the public (Walker 2007).
The factors of lawfulness and legitimacy in criminal investigation have become more important today, compared to the past years. These factors help the police and other investigators to investigate crime appropriately, thus, boosting safety standards in communities, as well as responding to the security needs of communities (Hess, Orthmann & Orthmann-hess 2009).
Today, if an investigator lacks the aspect legitimacy, this might inhibit them from possible partnerships, which are aimed at improving criminal investigation at the local and state levels. In the past, there was the assumption that the adoption and respect of constitutional principles by the police and other investigators inhibited effective policing and criminal investigations, as well as effective crime control. On the contrary, today, all the professionals in the policing unit, and other investigators in different investigative agencies are expected to uphold ethics, including accountability, in their investigation practice. These aspects are considered today as essential in the fight against crime (Dempsey & Forst 2011).
In the United Kingdom, there is increased interest in accountability of individual investigators, as well as the investigative agencies, compared to the past years (Walker 2007). This has mainly been associated with the factor of the presence of external citizen oversight agencies in different parts of the country. These external citizen oversight agencies in the United Kingdom have been on the increase over the years, and have spread and influenced other countries, including the United States, where these currently exist. The external citizen oversight agencies comprise of activists, who are concerned with civil rights and civil liberties. These have argued that external procedures for reviewing citizen complaints should be reviewed, implemented, and replaced with the internal police complaint review procedures, which are considered ineffective today (Walker 2007). In the United States of America, the number of oversight agencies has risen over the years, since its adoption as a result of the influence from the United Kingdom. Presently, there are more than 100 oversight agencies in the United States, compared to less than 40 in the 1990’s. Therefore, this aspect proves that, in the contemporary times, there is a growing public interest about accountability in policing as well as in other investigative agencies. This has forced different investigative agencies to adhere to different accountability procedures, which are paramount for reduced misconduct during the process of criminal investigation (Walker 2007).
Another important area of ethics in criminal investigations is concerned with the DNA databases involved in criminal investigations. According to Guillen et al (2000), the increased advancements in DNA technology and discovery of polymorphisms have resulted in the possibility of developing DNA databases in different countries, which are essential in criminal investigation. Therefore, the use of DNA technology in criminal investigation today has led to increased cases of legal and ethical problems, which are crucial in the analysis of legal regulations on the subject (Guillen et al 2000). Today therefore, investigators are able to compare the DNA samples found at crime scenes with the DNA samples in their databases, and this has increased the chances of identifying and locating the perpetrators of the crime under investigation. Every year, the DNA databases keep growing, as more citizens’ DNA samples are analyzed. Although this is a great step in the process of criminal investigation, most European countries today are in the process of drafting different laws, which will regulate DNA databases (Guillen et al 2000). In the United Kingdom, such laws are more permissive, compared to other countries in Europe. In the United Kingdom, it is appropriate to record any type of offence and include the DNA samples in the DNA databases. In the year 2000, the UK DNA database had close to 265,000 entries. This was developed in the year 1995, therefore, today, it is expected that the number of these entries has grown further. However, in other countries, including Germany, Austria, France, and Holland, the DNA databases include only the entries of individuals who have committed serious crimes (Guillen et al 2000).
Different countries today have different legal regulations, which apply to DNA analysis and procedures. While in some countries these regulations might be strict, in others, these are less strict. For instance, most European countries have regulations on DNA analysis, some countries such as Portugal, Spain, and most Scandinavian countries lack such regulations, even though plans are underway to develop the laws (Guillen et al 2000). In addition, there are differences in various countries on the types of crimes included in the DNA databases. For instance, in the USA, these vary from state to state. Therefore, while the DNA databases of some countries might be highly restrictive, comprising only the serious crimes, in other countries these are less restrictive and include even many less serious crimes and offences. Crime suspects in the criminal investigation are expected to submit their DNA information, which can be extracted from their saliva or blood sample (Lawyers.com 2013). However, different countries have different approaches in the way these DNA samples are got from suspects. While some countries have made it compulsory for every crime suspect to submit their DNA sample, other countries allow the crime suspect to make a choice whether or not to submit their DNA data. For instance, most countries in Southern Europe do not force individuals to submit to DNA tests unlike most countries in Northern Europe expect individuals to submit to DNA testing (Guillen et al 2000). Therefore, the disparities in different countries with regard to DNA databases and regulations today influence the role of criminal investigators. These are thus charged with varying roles, as far as DNA analysis and ethics is concerned, depending on the country of their practice. Nonetheless, major ethical and legal issues in DNA testing are experienced during the process of preparation of DNA databases in various countries (Guillen et al 2000).
Overall, the practice of criminal investigation today has changed considerably compare to the past. This change is mainly attributed to the change in technology, which is experienced in the world today. With continued technological advancements, it is expected that the role of criminal investigators will change further in future. Technology has led to new crimes; therefore, investigators too have been forced to learn new investigative techniques to counter the new crimes. These changes are evident in the new technologies, such as DNA analysis and computer forensics, which are adopted in the field of criminal investigation today. Although DNA analysis has been existent since the 1980’s, today, this is technically more advanced and reliable compared to the past. In addition, use of informants today is highly controversial, as it is thought to compromise the quality of criminal investigation. Although this was cost-effective, most investigators do not rely on it when investigating high-profile crimes (Hess, Orthmann & Orthmann-hess 2009).
Although many changes are present today in the practice of criminal investigation, these changes have not resulted in the drifting of the criminal investigation practice from its intended purpose. Instead, these changes have strengthened the practice of criminal investigation, increasing its effectiveness and efficiency. For instance, technological advances in criminal investigation are in a better position to address different crime situations, compared to the past when evidence gathering primarily based on witnesses and informants. However, although the technology today has gotten better, this has not been of greater advantage to the field of criminal investigation alone, since this has also led to the development of more sophisticated crimes, which are to a larger extent, a challenge to the criminal investigation agencies. In addition, the effectiveness of criminal investigation has also proved to be influenced by ethics and moral responsibility. Various ethics and legal implications have surrounded the DNA databases and analysis process in various countries. Similarly, criminal investigation processes such as criminal profiling in the United States have faced considerable opposition from different people who believe that the practice is more of racial profiling than criminal profiling (Ballin 2012). Nonetheless, state laws and concerns from activist groups have all demanded ethics and accountability from criminal investigators, thus influencing the practice of criminal investigation.
In conclusion, various contemporary issues have influenced the practice of criminal investigation. As observed, most of these issues have emerged as a result of advanced technology. These issues have however, led to various developments in the field of criminal investigation in order to increase effectiveness in the investigation practice, and address emerging issues in the crime situation today. Nonetheless, crime is a major challenge to safety and security of people in the world today. This also indirectly influences on the economy in an adverse manner. Although most people today do not consider the field of criminal investigation as contributing to crime prevention in the community, but instead view it as a response to crime, it is worth noting that this field plays an equally important role in crime prevention and reduction. Similarly, the role of most criminal investigators is not credited or recognized today, even though it is important in the fight against crime. Although various issues have emerged today, which influence criminal investigation, the role of investigators remains important, and more effective, compared to past years. Therefore, the community must support criminal investigators in their practice. When various contemporary issues result in changes in their practice, and make them call for stricter measures, it is important for the public to be supportive, as these investigators work to ensure security and safety of the public. Today, technology continues to grow at a rapid speed, therefore, resulting in new issues of ethics in the field of criminal investigation. Nonetheless, it is appropriate that the public learns to give up part of their privacy in order to not restrict criminal investigation practice, with regard to ethical considerations. Many activists have raised concerns associated with ethics, which have narrowed the practice of criminal investigation, thus inhibiting effective investigation. Nonetheless, for effective investigation, the public must understand that technology will continue to advance, thus bringing new issues in criminal investigation. Therefore, freedom ought to be given to the field of criminal investigation to perform its role, which is crucial in society.
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