Archive for the ‘Criminal Investigation’ Category

Coroner versus forensic pathologist

December 12, 2017

This article reports the resignation of the San Joaquin County, California forensic pathologist over disagreements with his sheriff/coroner. In 50 of the state’s counties a pathologist determines cause of death but then the sheriff/coroner has the final say on manner of death. The resigning pathologist had several deaths that he ruled homicide but which the sheriff labeled accidents, including death-in-custody cases.


Phantom debt scam

December 9, 2017

Estimates are that Americans are late on $600 billion in payments and 10% are on debt collectors’ lists. That’s a lot of real debt plus an opening for big-time fraud. Here’s an interesting story about a man who got harassed and threatened over a loan he had already repaid, leading him to unravel a huge fake debt scam, the head of which allegedly took in over $2 billion in a decade, bought a private jet, and started his own Ferrari racing team.

New fingerprint algorithm

November 1, 2017

This article and this video report a new fingerprint algorithm developed by the FBI that has so far identified over 200 bodies of unknown persons recovered decades ago. The technique substantially improves the hit rate on low-quality and single-finger prints.

Science of interrogation

October 29, 2017

This article provides an in-depth discussion of the psychology underlying effective interrogation. A study of over 1,000 hours of taped interrogations of terrorists confirmed that the key is rapport and projecting a genuine interest in what the suspect has to say, not trying to establish dominance or using confrontational techniques. Specialist training in the UK is now based on this research and well established methods from clinical psychology.


October 17, 2017

This article provides some explanation of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, and Zcash as well as blockchain, which is the underlying technology. Dark market usage, such as buying and selling illegal drugs, is estimated to be only a small percentage of cryptocurrency transactions, but their susceptibility to money laundering, phishing, and hacking is substantial.

Forensic science, wrongful convictions, and exonerations

October 16, 2017

This article from the NIJ Journal reviews the role played by forensic science in both exonerations and wrongful convictions. DNA is often the primary factor leading to exoneration, of course, but forensic science is rarely the sole cause of a wrongful conviction in the first place — rather, it is most often combined with one or more other contributing factors, such as eyewitness error, official misconduct, or false confession. The article concludes with several recommendations.

New DNA applications

September 25, 2017

DNA in investigations has mainly been used to match human cells from a crime scene to a known suspect or DNA in a database, but this article describes some other emerging uses, such as identifying physical characteristics of an otherwise unknown suspect. This type of genetic analysis recently helped solve a 1992 murder case in Massachusetts, according to a prosecutor’s statement.

Revisiting Miranda

August 28, 2017

This article summarizes a study arguing that Miranda protocols prevent police from solving “about 20 percent more violent crimes and 11.6 percent more property crimes.” The authors don’t think “you have the right to remain silent” inhibits many confessions, but rather the practice of stopping questioning when a suspect says they want an attorney. They suggest a revised warning that would protect self-incrimination rights without short-circuiting interrogations. The full study is available here.

More on proprietary big data systems

August 12, 2017

This article reports the experiences of several law enforcement agencies with Palantir’s data analysis systems. The company’s hardware and software systems, originally developed for intelligence agencies, help with integration and visualization of data stored in multiple “silos.” LAPD was able to cut the time required to produce Chronic Offender Bulletins from an hour to 3-5 minutes, which helped reduce violent crime in one target district by 15%. The systems are very expensive, however, and some users complain about hard-to-use software, costly upgrades, poor technical support, incompatibility with non-Palantir systems used by other agencies, and generally being at the mercy of the company once its products have been purchased and installed.

Reviewing unfounded sexual assault cases

July 28, 2017

This article reports that Ottawa will adopt the “Philadelphia Model” in which a multidisciplinary panel reviews reported sexual assaults that police classify as unfounded. The main purpose is not to find specific police errors, but to identify ways of improving the system so that future decisions are based on valid criteria and victims are more satisfied that they were treated fairly.