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Policing — Forensic services and infrastructure


Part 5 of the Policing sector of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit, produced by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime.


Forensic services are key to an effective and fair criminal justice system because they provide objective and timely information for multiple phases at different stages of the criminal justice process. For example, forensic services are used by police to identify suspects in the investigative phase of the criminal justice process. Forensic services are also used by attorneys and judges during the trial phase of the process. The ultimate objective of forensic science is to contribute to finding the truth, more precisely to provide the criminal justice system with answers, using objective evidence, and by questions aimed at determining the guilt or innocence of an offender. It is therefore essential that forensic services are provided by a highly qualified and impartial entity.

Assessing forensic services from the crime scene to the courtroom is complex and should include legal, structural (e.g., affiliations), non-technical (e.g., reporting results, court presentations, laboratory management, planning, ethics and oversight, etc.) as well as technical aspects (i.e., examinations and analyses). The quality of the technical work performed at an individual forensic laboratory may not be uniform and can vary between disciplines. Additionally, although adequate equipment and instrumentation are necessary for a laboratory to provide good services, the equipment and instruments available in a laboratory are not, of themselves, a reflection of the quality of the services provided. An assessment also reviews how a laboratory maintains its equipment and is keeping up with new technology as well as the opportunities that exist to establish and maintain scientific expertise for forensic scientists. These support functions (e.g., research and development, method validation, education and training) may be provided in-house or through collaboration with universities or other forensic laboratories. An assessment of the quality of forensic services also includes an assessment of crime scene investigation services: the expertise and capacity of first responders to take appropriate action, the review of procedures used to document, collect and preserve integrity and identity of evidence, and the communication channels and collaboration between the crime scene investigation service and the forensic laboratory.