Wildlife Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)
A wildlife crime scene is an area where an act which has resulted into a wildlife crime took place. The key principle of crime scene management is Locard’s Exchange Principle which states that, “Every contact leaves a trace.” CSI is very important as it leads the investigator to the perpetrator and connects the perpetrator to the evidence.
Types of crime scenes include indoor crime scenes, outdoor crime scenes and conveyance crime scenes. An indoor crime scene is easy to demarcate, easy to secure and has less exposure to contamination. An outdoor crime scene is difficult to demarcate and secure, vulnerable to contamination and to weather conditions. A conveyance crime scene is easy to demarcate and secure and has less exposure to contamination but is difficult to search.
Forensic science is the application of science to criminal laws that are enforced by agencies within a criminal justice system. Wildlife forensic science is science applied to legal questions involving wildlife. Professionals use their scientific backgrounds to help law enforcement personnel solve wildlife crimes.
Wildlife forensic science contributes to solving crimes through investigative activities. These include determining the cause of wildlife death, identifying suspects, finding missing wildlife parts and profiling wildlife. Forensic scientists can identify suspects by analysing evidence found at the scene of a crime such as blood and fingerprints. Forensic science is also key in exonerating the innocent.
Wildlife forensic science is therefore a link between the crime scene, the suspect and the victim in a way that is admissible in court. Prosecutors can use the results of the scientific tests to prosecute those involved in wildlife crime.
A search is an operation whereby an investigator looks for and takes possession of alleged evidence against suspects. In general, a search warrant has to be obtained before conducting a search unless circumstances do not require it. The law recognizes the need to protect property owners from arbitrary interference of their property by persons in authority.
However, if the investigator has reasonable grounds to believe that the evidence can be found in a particular place and that delay occasioned while seeking for search warrant may jeopardize the expected results then he may go ahead and search without authorisation. In case of complaint by a suspect that the search was illegal, the investigator should be able to defend the reasonableness in his actions.
This involves gathering information based on non-accusatory procedures. A key example is witness interviewing. The interviewer should remember to keep an open mind and not ask leading questions. He should take a neutral unbiased position. The investigator should question each witnesses separately to prevent them from influencing each others’ stories. Always give the witness an opportunity to answer questions so as to elicit as much information as possible.
The first interview is the most crucial. The primary investigating officer may not always be the best interviewer. Consider the age and sex of the witness when selecting an interviewer and the situation which has made such an interview necessary. Also consider language barriers and cultural barriers. The interviewer should talk using plain language and avoid street language, cussing or yelling.
Digital imaging tools, such as digital cameras, photo CD discs and image handling software, can be important assets in gathering and presenting evidence. Make sure you take a photograph of the object you are recovering while still at the crime scene so as to be able to easily connect it to the crime scene and to the accused person.
The investigator should remember to store the images in a format that cannot be easily altered. The images should include information regarding their creation. Modern digital imaging technology supports this requirement, making work easier for the investigator. For example, some digital cameras generate a uniquely written data file each time an image is captured. The file records information such as the camera’s make, model and serial number, camera settings, and the date and time the image was captured. The camera automatically stores the data file once you save the image. Other digital storage platforms such as computers and discs also automatically store these data once you save the image there.
The investigator must control custody of all image records at all times. This ensures that one can testify about chain of custody of the images used to support testimony. There are a number of procedures you can put into place to satisfy this requirement. For example, determine which computer or computers will be used for medium or long-term storage of image files. Then password-protect sensitive computer files stored on those computers. Keep the computers and any archival media, such as CDs, in secure locations.
Surveillance is the act of observing and/or listening to suspects while remaining undetected. It is often difficult and time consuming. The investigator should properly plan and execute surveillance activities so as to get as much evidence as possible. Types of surveillance include stationary surveillance, foot, vehicle, boat and aerial surveillance.