The spike in day light robberies has become a worrying trend in Ghana lately and I know by now many of us have either read or heard accounts of a couple of bullion van robbery cases, among other incidents, that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. As concerns are being raised about the need to intensify security efforts by the various security agencies in the country, it is important that we pay attention to the critical role that forensics plays in the criminal justice system.
I would start off by giving a brief explanation of what forensic science is, how it works, and most importantly who the key players are. Forensic science may be defined as the application of scientific knowledge and methods for the resolution of legal problems. It is a broad field with many branches such as forensic anthropology, forensic pathology, forensic toxicology etc. It usually involves the collection and examination of evidence from a crime scene and the delivery of expert witness testimony to support legal proceedings. There may be several players and stakeholders in this field, primarily the police who may double as crime scene investigators, the judiciary, as well as the public.
For the purposes of this discussion, I would focus on the role of the public in the Ghanaian setting. The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Ghana Police Service is primarily responsible for criminal investigations in the country, nevertheless the public has a significant role to play in the operations of this unit. Let us consider for a moment the recent bullion van attack that resulted in the death of an armed police officer riding in the vehicle, and a bystander who tried to raise an alarm. It should be noted by the way, that this attack occurred within the working hours of the day in Jamestown, one of the busiest communities in the capital Accra. Naturally, many residents, including journalists were drawn to the crime scene to either help the surviving victims or get a firsthand scoop of the breaking news. During an interview, one of the primary eyewitnesses revealed that with a view of providing a helping hand, he picked up bullets from the crime scene to secure and handed over those valuable pieces of evidence to the police upon their arrival.
He tampered with evidence at a crime scene! What was his motivation for doing so? What was the level of general interference at the crime scene? These and many more questions ran through my mind as I struggled to process his account. I concluded that several things could be attributed to his response. The level of interference with this and many other crime scenes highlighted the lack of forensic awareness in Ghana.
Firstly, most of you would agree with me that the cultural orientation and background of a people usually determine their actions and behaviours. I have observed that the majority of Ghanaians are brought up to be empathetic and hospitable towards others. It is in our nature to want to help whenever and however possible. But is that always necessary? How should we approach a crime scene bearing this trait?
Secondly, there is next to no forensic awareness among the public, in Ghana. The vast majority of the population probably has little or no appreciation for the role of forensics in criminal investigation. Thus, I recommend that in our own small way, we start to educate ourselves on these subtle but important aspects of forensics pertaining to our criminal justice delivery system.
In addition, I believe that the general mistrust of citizenry towards the police, grown over the years, sometimes results in the public taking matters into their own hands. Circling back to the robbery incident, according to eyewitness accounts, it took the police a while to arrive at the crime scene, forcing some members of the public to intervene in the situation. It should be noted that any reckless interaction with a crime scene could cause serious contamination.
With these in mind, I would like us to take note of a couple of things the next time we encounter a crime scene. Remember this: Every contact leaves a trace. Until it is absolutely necessary (i.e., in the cases where peoples’ lives are in danger) to interact with a crime scene, please do not. The potential of exchanging trace evidence is inevitable. There is the latent possibility of being implicated in a crime you did not commit if sufficient trace evidence is exchanged. Avoid picking up pieces of evidence to help crime scene investigators with their work. Damage to evidence due to contamination could be irreversible, thus rendering it useless.
Also, I would encourage us to develop a sense of proactivity and responsibility in protecting and preserving the integrity of crime scenes. We should be willing to ward off individuals irrespective of their status and position in society, be it journalists, politicians, members of the public, etc. Absolutely no one, except those who have the mandate to be there, and that is the police and other emergency response services. We should view it as our contribution to ensuring that people can receive a fair trial and ensuring that justice would be served.
I believe the above discourse sets the tone for further discussions surrounding this topic and serves as an avenue to develop knowledge, consciousness as well as an appreciation for forensic science and its contribution to our criminal justice system.
Having said that, from now onwards, what would your initial response be to a crime scene as a Ghanaian? Would you be able to recognize a crime scene if you came across one? What do you know about forensic science in Ghana?
Preservation Over Curiosity/Forensic Awareness/ Crime Scene Preservation
The link to the said video interview can be found here: https://fb.watch/6sxzZ7KJ4w/