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The role of a scene of crime officer has changed dramatically over the past century. This isn't only due to the developments in forensic science; but also has been greatly influenced by the demand in the change of ethics within the fields of forensic science.
It's always easier to claim that you are impartial to actually being impartial; therefore the ethics of forensic scientists and scene of crime officers are very important in not only in the trial of defendants, but also in the outcome of how their life will unfold. We will now look at what forensic science is and how the ethics within this field affect the way the whole justice system is seen by the public. Together we will decide if the justice system is developing scientifically as well as ethically or just scientifically, we will then relate this to the works of the scene of crime officer.
What is Forensic Science?
Firstly I would like to explain what forensic science actually is. How it is applied and why it is applied. Forensic Science is the application of science to the scene of crime. It is used to bring forth a sequence of events which without the application of science will never be known or understood. Once the sequence of events at the scene have been established; with the help of the exhibits of evidence collected by the scene of crime officer, a case will be built up to present in court. In theory the Forensic Scientists role is to exclude or establish a relation between a crime scene and person, or person and person. Though it is said to exclude, this is usually not the suspect, for the majority of the time the only exclusions made is (from) the victim. Unfortunately for the suspect there isn't usually an elimination process. the presence of the suspect in the scene somehow makes him/her the murderer, rapist or what ever else they are being accused of having done.
Due to the complexity of the work forensic scientists do there is a demand of speciality within this field. Experts in fields within forensic science include forensic anthropologists, archaeologists, entomologists, odontologists, toxicologists, ballistic experts, firearms experts, pathologists, engineer, economics and forensic psychologists. From the list we can see that there are many branches in forensic science but they can only do their jobs once the scene of crime has been examined and the evidence have been correctly exhibited. Just like the scientist only having one chance to test samples (depending on the amount) unfortunately the scene examiner also only has one chance to collect these exhibits. It will cause numerous unnecessary problems if the scene examiner forgot to do something they should have done but even so, they usually process the scene alone so nobody needs to know right?
Timeline of developments in Forensic Science
Though the early developments of forensic science dates back to the year 250BC we will pay attention to the more recent and relevant forensic science techniques to the ones that are used today.
Job Role of a scene of crime officer
As mentioned previously there have been many developments in the techniques that are used in the scene of crime, but the actual role of the scene of crime officer has not changed much. Though the role hasn't changed much, there have been adaptations that had to be made by the SOCO, which by some people can be classified as change. To most people, attending the crime scene may be cool, to an actual scene of crime officer; not so much. They are sent to numerous crime scenes everyday, including burglaries, robberies, murder, rape to do the exact same thing, record the scene. The way a scene is recorded hasn't changed much except in the sense of the developments in technology. We will now go through the ways a scene can be documented, recorded, recovered and stored.
The role of the scenes of crime officer is to attend the scene in search of evidence such as finger prints, DNA, Tool marks, hair fibres, Glass, Documents or any thing else that may assist with the trial process of the case. This is all recovered by the use of observing as this is the most important part of the evidence gathering. In order to begin the examination process the scene examiner must first observe, this is done before anything else. It is important as good observation can help with aiding the investigation in the time perspective. For instance if the scene examiner observes, they may notice something unusual (such as signs of struggle) and orientate their examination to such areas more. In some cases the Scenes of crime officer is fortunate enough to have an opportunity to liase with the relevant personnel/ victim they may know where to look in the scene of crime. Though this is fortunate, regardless to any information obtained they must remember to have an open mind during the examination. Once the Scene of crime officers have liased and observed they then begin to photograph the scene. the documenting begins prior to observing or liaison. Scene of crime officers also liase with outside agencies, as well as attend court if necessary to provide evidence.
Skills and abilities a scene of crime officer must possess
By looking at the job description above you may notice that some things are more important for a SOCO then it might be for other occupations. These skills will obviously be required by most employers but the consequences will differ dramatically depending on the profession. These qualities however are not always classified as qualities. Some may call people that possess these qualities; insensitive, cold, immoral or even stupid but some will describe them as heroic and strong. Some of these qualities are required in most occupations such as excellent observational and interpersonal skills, dealing with stressful situations and issues that they are uncomfortable to deal with. They are required to accept responsibility for their work and actions and are also required to be flexible in regards to their working hours. These all seem pretty regular to anyone that has applied to any type of job or position of work.
If we apply these to the role of the scene of crime officer we see that it is not so regular. Depending on the role you are applying it to it can be, but not in this case. Here we see that they scene of crime officer is required to have excellent observational skills and we also see they are required to accept the responsibility for their actions. Yes it only seems fair that like with any job they should be responsible for their actions. Except, mistakes in a field like this have many misfortunes. Speaking of misfortunes we should also make note of scene of crime officers dealing with stressful situations they are not comfortable to deal with. Yes it is true no one is going to want to deal with for example a cot death but in certain circumstances they may need to and their impartiality may become flawed in these kinds of circumstances.
As William Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth
"who can be wise, amazed, temperate, and furious. Loyal and neutral in a moment? No man."
There are many reasons for becoming unethical in certain circumstances and for a moment everyone can see black and white, what implications may that cause for a scene of crime officer? Or more importantly the suspect?
Why are good Ethics Important?
Perhaps it depends on the person that's actually asking the question. Should they ask why good ethics are important or are good ethics important? Depending on the circumstance it may be possible that ethics aren't important at all or shall we say as important as in the case of criminal justice. Surely we can see the implications that bad ethics may have on a persons life if it involves law enforcement agencies; but can the people on the inside of these agencies see the implications they can cause for the people on the outside?
Ethics is not something we think about much, we can even say we don't think about it at all. This doesn't make us unethical. Its almost as if ethics is a sense, we don't need to think about it its just something we know. Ethics is knowing between right and wrong, good and bad, knowing how to act in certain situations and being prepared to take charge in instances where others actions are known to be unethical.
Scene of crime officers have a code of ethics which they must abide by. Their code of ethics state that they are to, dedicate themselves to mankind and respect the constitutional rights of all people to liberty equality and justice. They are to never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudice, animosities or friendship influence their decisions. They are to have no compromise for crime and are required to make every effort to analyse the crime scene effectively. They are to apply there technical knowledge factually and with perseverance and conviction to preserve the ethical standards of scientific identification and investigation.
Core behavioural competencies reflecting role of the scene of crime officer
A scene of crime officer is required to possess many qualities but the most important quality of all is integrity.
With the developments in science, along came the time consuming triple packaging and the manufacturing of excess personal protective equipment. One thing is for certain. Scene of crime officers do not go to the scene to falsify evidence, they enter the crime scene with an effort to find out the truth.
As fictional character Sherlock Holmes once said
"I can only find evidence Watson, I cannot change it"
Its true not every scene examiner is as ethical as the justice system will require them to be. They also can make mistakes due to the demand and pressure that is on them, which can sometimes make people unethical. It is certain from the code of ethics that scene examiner are to only do what is required of them. That is, to enter and process the scene in an open and objective manner regardless to what theories they may have had. They are there to record and therefore if the evidence does not correspond to their theories they must not care what they have or have not found. An ethical scene of crime officer will be willing to accept that their theories may have been wrong and consider new evidence. Most importantly they must be truthful in what they find and report it.
Regardless to how much a scene of crime officer searches a scene, it is impossible to recover every trace of evidence. However this must not put the scene of crime officer off, they must continue to collect and document what they do find and stick to their good ethics.
With responsibilities like this and dealing with horrific cases having an open mind can be difficult but as much as people don't like to accept, some people are better at shutting things off then others. Such as doctors, if every time a doctor couldn't save a patient they committed suicide there wouldn't be any doctors left.