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From small drones equipped with sensors that scan crime scenes to an evidence database with forensic information about violent homicides, Inman is looking to fundamentally change the way violent crimes are investigated. Keith Inman spent years at the bench providing testimony in cases concerning violent homicide, but even with his courtroom experience, he’s not exactly conventional. From small drones equipped with sensors that scan crime scenes to an evidence database with forensic information about violent homicides, Inman, an assoicate professor at California State University, East Bay,  is looking to fundamentally change the way violent crimes are investigated starting with the most rudimentary principal — knowing what to look for.

While bloodstain patterns have been thoroughly researched, Inman wants to research all types of crime scene evidence just as thoroughly in a reenactment or “crime scene theater” to determine a “sphere of expectations.” His recent presentation to The Royal Society, London called “Crime Scene Science — What Will the Future Look Like?” asks the criminological community to consider the benefits of employing science as early as possible in the investigative process.

While Inman said his approach wasn't quite the “Higgs Boson” of forensic science, his ideas do have far reaching implications. He recently spoke to Forensic Magazine in an exclusive interview about the very specific changes he would like to see, and why it all starts and ends with science.

 

Forensic Magazine: In your recent presentation, you explained how the "origin of evidence creation" needs to be researched more closely to make more predictive evaluations about crime scenes: specifically, the “production, dispersion, persistence and degradation” of physical evidence. What exactly do you mean by that?

Keith Inman: The most obvious and researched piece of evidence to look for is bloodstain patterns. We know a fair amount about bloodstains at crime scenes from various [types of] violent events, but really that’s only one kind of evidence. It would be good to know, under a controlled environment, what other kinds of evidence you might be looking for at a crime scene, and what the variety of physical evidence might be. For example, how often are fibers transferred to the victim in a physical confrontation, and how long do they persist? That is, research into the origin of evidence creation, and knowing what was created by the act of violence opposed to all the other physical events that did not relate to the commission of the crime.

Introducing science into the investigation process at an earlier stage, creates the best possibility to provide the most accurate information, and it stands to add tremendous value to the administration of criminal justice.

FM: So, you want to study crime scenes more fundamentally in order to understand exactly what evidence would be expected, and what percentage of the time. How would you go about that research?

KI: The research would have to consist of simulations, and be very interdisciplinary. We could utilize stunt actors and combat actors that know how to reenact violent scenes a hundred times in a row, and in the exact same way. Then, we could characterize the evidence every single time — maybe the blood spatter goes this direction 30 percent of the time, but in this direction 100 percent of the time — and that kind of detailed information can really help you understand what you’re seeing at a crime scene.

Once you’ve done the physical part, you can then model what you find mathematically. Perhaps engage computer gaming programmers that have created games where you run people down and shoot them, and it’s all simulated. Now you can mathematically simulate an event 10,000 times, which you could never do with actual human beings, and it becomes a better predictive instrument.

FM: The information discovered in these reenactments could be combined to create a “repository of information” that future crime scene investigators would then use to steer their investigations in a more productive direction. Is that right?

KI: Yes, if we could document through some technical wizardry the entire scene of the violent crime, and create a database, and document the category of violence — whether that’s a beating, or a strangulation, a stabbing, a shooting — even before you step into the crime scene, you could query that database, feed your information into the system, and know even before you go in, what might help you understand what occurred. What would it mean in this specific situation if you find one piece of evidence, but not another? With this type of documented crime scene information, investigations can become much more thorough.

FM: What kind of "wizardry" are we talking about exactly?

KI: It might sound like something from the crime scene of the future, but the technology does exist. We would just need to modify existing technology — like taking a whole bunch of sensors and putting them on small drones to map and display almost a virtual crime scene.

FM: What are some of the disadvantages of trying to predict where evidence might be?

KI: Obviously, there is bias. For example, it might appear that there was a violent event and a chest-to-chest struggle, when in actuality, the victim was held by one individual and then stabbed by another. The way to avoid bias is to have multiple hypotheses, and search the crime scene more broadly.

FM: Crime scene investigating is intensive already. What sorts of situations do you think your approach would be most useful?

KI: For some types of violent fights that moves all over the room, and there’s a couple of things knocked over like the lamp and the chair, you can more easily put your arms around what happened. But when you only have a dead body and not much else, a predictive model would be most helpful to direct an investigator. The model might suggest to start here, to remember to look for the evidence that you can’t see — fingernail scrapings, palm swabs, clothing fibers. By aggregating the physical evidence in real time, the model might be able to provide substantial results.  

 

For more with Keith Inman make sure to check Part 2 of the "Future of Crime Scene Science" feature. “What’s coming ahead that looks to be the most disruptive isn’t technological,” Inman says, “it’s intellectual.”

Keith Inman holds a B.S. and MCrim. from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a Fellow of the American Board of Criminalistics, and is currently a member of the California Association of Criminalists.

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