Preserving the scene of crime

A
lost shred of evidence can spell disaster for a police investigation.  We report on the force using e-learning to
help beat crime.  By Sue Weekes

Crime
detection is a team effort – not how it is portrayed on the TV, with a single
detective solving the case in the time it takes for the kettle to boil,"
says Stuart Brown, force forensic trainer at Leicestershire Constabulary.
"Everybody in our organisation has to know what part they play for the
rest of the team to be successful."

As
in any organisation, the ability to be a fully functional team player relies on
having had the right training for the job. And in the area of forensic
investigation, training must leave no stone unturned – literally. Which is why
all Leicestershire Constabulary police officers go through an in-depth
programme of training on forensic awareness when they join the force. This
involves going out to real-life crime scenes to see a forensic investigation as
it happens, as well as classroom components.

The
complexities and intricacies of forensic science, however, mean that a
mechanism must also be in place to ensure knowledge levels are topped up at all
times.

"We
were aware that the potential for increasing our crime detections existed
though improved crime scene preservation in the light of advances in forensic
science," says Brown, a former assistant senior scene of crime officer.

"The
public deserve to have a police force that is fully functional in a wide range
of duties and which remains highly visible. Our aim was to produce a useful
point of information and learning while causing minimal disruption to police
duties. We decided to develop a training application that would support police
officers and key personnel to provide the information they need 24 hours a
day."

Brown
believed that the best vehicle for delivering ‘any time, anywhere’ training was
via the force intranet, and 18 months ago Leicestershire Constabulary set up
an  internal website. Following its
success, and funding from the Home Office, it turned to training provider
KnowledgePool to help develop it into a full-blown training application.

The
training tool was aimed not just at police officers who are first at the scene
of a crime, but also for those taking 
the initial details at the call centres – which include a large number
of civilian support staff. They are the first point of contact for anyone
reporting a crime.

Identifying
and preserving any evidence at the earliest possible stage is key to any police
investigation and this often begins with that first telephone report of the
crime. Losing a vital piece of evidence because it has been contaminated –
albeit innocently – by a member of the public at the crime scene, can make the
difference between catching a criminal or not.

"Both
groups are key to ensuring evidence isn’t lost to weather or interference from
people touching or trampling over the scene. They can preserve the crime scene
for scene examiners by giving the correct advice or taking the correct steps
when they visit," explains Brown. "This gives the scene of crime
officers  – the collectors of forensic
evidence who you normally see at the sharp end in the media – a chance of
finding evidence in a more recoverable state when they visit, and consequently,
more detections."

The
training application needed to run on Leicestershire Constabulary’s existing
intranet hardware and had to be a low bandwidth solution that could be accessed
from any location. It asked KnowledgePool for two versions: one that was
installed to run over the intranet that could be accessed on any terminal at
any police station within Leicestershire, and a standalone CD-Rom version that
could be taken anywhere and loaded on to a laptop.

The
application takes a highly visual approach and has the look and feel of a
website rather than a traditional, linear e-learning course. It is based on a
series of simu- lations of real-life crime scenes broken up into three
digestible modules, which encourage learners to search for relevant information
in pictures, and presents them with fact files on that subject. A
three-question test at the end of each simulation assesses the learner’s
understanding of that area before they move on to the next module.

"The
client had existing courseware and we followed that style. They had a good idea
of what they wanted and were keen to embrace the technology, so they were very
easy to work with," says Saul Treherne, a bespoke e-learning consultant at
KnowledgePool.

The
three modules are based on simulations of a burglary scene, a stolen car, and a
prisoner brought into custody, who the police are trying to forensically link
to a crime. A learner can click on some blood on a curtain, for instance, and a
box will appear with a whole page of information on blood and DNA.

Brown
and colleagues in the Scientific Support Department wrote all the material.
"We had a mass of information that already existed, so we had to go
through and prune it down because the training is intended to be very
visual," he says.

"Then
we’d send it to the scriptwriters at KnowledgePool who would prune it some
more. We’d then amend it when it came back to us, and sometimes pages were
being passed to and fro eight or nine times before the information conveyed the
right message exactly as we wanted it. It was a steep learning curve for us –
and probably for them as well."

Feedback
has been extremely positive so far, says Brown, with users enjoying the
programme’s  accessibility. "If
they have a quiet night shift at the station, for instance  – not that you get many of those – they can
log on and do some training."

The
structure also enables users to quickly check certain forensic facts
immediately before attending a crime scene.

Leicestershire
Constabulary is less concerned about financial return on investment and more
interested in the effectiveness of the training to help solve crimes.

"Our
aim is for the training to deliver preserved and uncontaminated crime scenes.
Police officers and support staff are noticeably becoming more forensically
aware and crime detections through forensic science are increasing," says
Brown.

He
also acknowledges that the tool gives them a training solution with a cheaper
cost per head than the classroom.

"We
have 2,000 police personnel within Leicestershire Constabulary and this
application gives us the flexibility to deliver our training consistently at
any time, anywhere, within the force."

As
a result of the e-learning programme, KnowledgePool has a reseller agreement
with Leicestershire Police and other forces have shown considerable interest in
it. Leicestershire Constabulary, meanwhile, will continue to develop its
applications.

"We
are a progressive force. Our plans are to simply look at what we have and see
if it can be improved," says Brown.

"Our
training programme will be measured by improved performance and knowledge. We
will certainly consider e-learning again to complement other means if we felt
it suitably met the training needs of a busy police officer."

In
summary
Dissecting the reasons for programme

Leicestershire
Constabulary’s aim
To provide a supporting training application for
forensic science that is available to police officers and civilian support
staff 24-hours a day.

Why?
It is vital for every scrap of crime scene evidence to be detected and
preserved at the earliest possible stage. The police officers and station staff
who have first contact with the members of the public reporting the crime –
whether it is on the phone or at the crime scene –  are key personnel in the detection and preservation of such
evidence.

Is
e-learning delivering?
Feedback has been positive from the learners and
other police constabularies have expressed an interest in the training. Police
officers and support staff are noticeably becoming more forensically aware and
crime detections through forensic science are on the increase.

Top
tips to win success

Leicestershire
Constabulary’s top tips for e-learning are:


Be clear about  what you want for your
learners – you know them best, and you are paying


Be clear about what the e-learning writers want from you, such as format and
word count


Remember that learners like realistic themes and photographs

 

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