Saturday, December 31, 2011

Boston to adopt British homicide investigation techniques

The Boston police department solves about one out of every three murders.  That is about half of the national clearance rate of 65 percent. Chief Edward F. Davis is committed to improving this rate by a dramatic overhaul of the homicide  investigation protocol.

"My goal is to improve the clearance rate,” Boston police Commissioner Davis told the Boston Herald. “To get over the national average (of 65 percent) — and I think that’s possible — we need to examine best practices. I want to shoot for the stars with this.”

Davis said the last time a serious study of investigative techniques took place was 1975. “This is the first time in 35 years that anyone will take a hard look at what detectives do,” he said.  He intends to copy the "British model," reported the Herald.

The keys to the British model are setting strict protocols for approaching each homicide and sending teams of detectives and crime scene specialists, known as “murder squads,” to work the slaying scene in the first 48 hours while clues and witness memories are still fresh. The British rapidly flood murder scenes with a swarm of investigators and forensic experts resulting in a 90 percent clearance rate.

The “golden hour,” immediately after the call comes in, is critical. That’s when decisions that lead to quick arrests and successful prosecutions are made, Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told the Herald.

“Some people are looking at the victim’s profile, some people are looking at physical evidence, witnesses, the location,” O’Donnell told the Herald. “People are working in tandem, but comprehensively. There’s no one out there who will not have a hand on their shoulder and be asked, ‘Did you see something?’ ”

British “murder squads” also employ common standards for all homicide probes that are rigorously followed — and strictly classified and thus not shared with the public, Martin Innes, head of the police science institute at Cardiff University’s School of Social Science in Wales, told the Herald.

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