Kiwis at forefront of crime scene technology

ENHANCE: While forensic science is nothing like the slick, fast processes shown on CSI, real-life police work is catching up.
ENHANCE: While forensic science is nothing like the slick, fast processes shown on CSI, real-life police work is catching up.

Police like to insist the reality of forensic work during crime investigations is nothing like the slick, fast process shown on US TV shows like CSI - but real life is catching up with fiction.

Crown research institute ESR, which provides forensic services to government agencies, is trying to speed up the identification of DNA found at crime scenes.

In its just published 2012 annual report, ESR said it was working with companies in Britain and the US in developing "DNA at the crime scene" technology.

"Until now, DNA interpretation has been very hands-on and can be quite a slow process. But things are changing," ESR DNA interpretation specialist Jo Bright said.

"DNA at the scene will involve taking a portable device, about the size of a suitcase, to the crime scene for profiling samples. By combining this cutting-edge technology with our expertise we'll have a completely automated sample-to-result solution in only a few hours," she said.

"Resulting profiles will be compared with the New Zealand DNA database instantly, identifying people of interest to the police. That's truly CSI: New Zealand stuff."

The annual report said a wide and increasing range of miniaturised, high-tech instruments allowed rapid transfer of data, enhanced evidence detection, rapid crime scene recording and field analysis of substances.

ESR research identified three technologies that stood out as having potential for advancing its crime scene services.

They were recording and showing the crime scene using new scanning technologies, transmitting information from the crime scene in real time, and using new devices for field testing at the crime scene.

Some of that technology could benefit the justice system with new crime scene techniques and visual tools to speed up and simplify court processes.

If the technologies were effective and useful, ESR planned to work with New Zealand companies with 3D graphic and digital capabilities to further develop them.

Improvements had also been made to the DNA profile databank which covered 135,000 people and provided a 65 per cent chance of linking a profile from a crime scene sample to a known person.

The databank combined with rapid DNA testing procedures was helping police catch repeat offenders sooner, the report said.

"A pilot project this year proved that by reducing DNA turnarounds from an average of 28 days to five days or less, police could stop repeat offenders before they could commit more crimes."

The project was being rolled out across the country.