Police Investigations. A Speedy Process?

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A police investigation is summarized as the follow process. The police will meet with the victim of a crime, they then take the victim’s statement about the crime, the police will then look to gather physical evidence and then finally, they will send the evidence off to get tested before they can make an arrest.

The process when written out does not seem to be such a hasty process. In fact, even some forms of media make it seem like an easy process.

In many forms of media, most commonly in television shows, police investigations are started and concluded in a one hour long episode. In a one hour episode, a crime is committed, the police investigate it, and they arrest a person in only a couple days (in relation to the show).

More specifically, when the police officers find evidence and give it to the lab to get results back it usually only takes a couple hours (in television time) on most televisions shows for the officers to receive that information back.

But how realistic is that?

According to a research report that studied “forensic testing turnaround time” of all fifty states, they would all heavily disagree with the television shows in that aspect. This source identifies that the average amount of time it takes to test forensic biology, DNA, fingerprints, and firearm data is about one hundred and twenty-seven days.

(See chart below)

Table 1: Days to Complete Cases for Reporting Local and State Forensic Laboratories*

Test Average Median
Forensic Biology 123 68
DNA 152 114
Trace 56 50
Fingerprints 169 123
Firearms 136 58
Average Overall 127.2 68

 

Now, that is a long time to wait to see if the DNA evidences matches up with the police’s suspect. But they can put a rush on the forensic data to receive it quicker.

According to the same source, the data that is “rushed” for a homicide case varies greatly from state to state. A rush order in New Hampshire has a turnaround time of one to two days, as a rush order in Washington state has a turnaround time of, on average, one hundred and fifteen days!

All this information raises a couple questions. What makes this process so difficult? Why do police investigation take so long?

Well according to Mark Vinette, a law enforcement officer with thirty-five years of experience believes there to be one main reason. He believes the reason is simple; there are way more forensic requests than there are scientist to fulfill them.

Nevertheless, from a policing aspect, in order to successfully charge a person, they have to gather enough evidence “beyond reasonable doubt” that the person they are investigating actually committed the crime they are being investigated for.

Which ultimately means that the police are sending over any and all evidence that they find and just hoping that something sticks. Unlike in television shows where the evidence that they find usually has some sort of significant value to catching the suspect.

Another reason why police investigations are such a lengthy process is because once the police receive the information back from the scientists, they have to interview possible suspects. This step itself can take a while.

As an example of how long police investigations can last let’s take a look at the Amanda Knox case. As many people know, Amanda Knox was a prime suspect in a murder that involved her roommate but was eventually acquitted and set free.

More specifically, from the Amanda Knox case let’s look at the timeline. Knox’s roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered on November 7th, 2007. Nearly eight years later on March 25th, 2015 Knox was finally found innocent and set free.

Yes, the media did play a role in why the case remained open for so long but the fact that it took eight years to let an innocent person walk free is utterly mind-blowing.

As I am writing this I am unsure of any possibilities of how to make this process move along at a quicker rate. I fear that if we make efforts to speed up the process it will lead to tainted results, and/or mistakes by either the police or the scientists.

Is the length of the police investigations a necessary evil? Is there any way to speed up the process, but keep the quality of the results?

I am curious to see people’s thoughts in the comment section!

  • Jimmy Duvall
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6 thoughts on “Police Investigations. A Speedy Process?

  1. Jimmy,
    I am glad you chose this topic and discussed the turnaround time for forensic labs because it is something that many people do not think about (thanks to crimes shows, like you mentioned) and it is actually a pretty influential problem. A major issue with forensic labs is that they are severely understaffed. With only a few people working, only so much work can be done. Additionally, these labs usually do not have enough machines to turn out the volume of tests that are coming into the lab. My mom works in a lab at a hospital, and while it may not be a forensic lab, they still encounter these same issues and it is very frustrating. Additionally, when one of these machines break down, it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for it to get fixed. And that is in a HOSPITAL! I can only imagine how long it may take a forensic lab to get their equipment fixed. Thus, I firmly believe better facilities/machines and more staff could easily help police investigations along when it comes to the forensic front.

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  2. Jimmy,
    I liked your post and how it made me think about police investigations in a different way. I never thought about or wondered how long it actually takes for scientists to send back lab results and how this aspect of investigations is always faster on TV shows especially liked Criminal Minds. I also liked how you mentioned the Amanda Knox case and how it took 8 years to let an innocent woman walk free. It reminded me of a case I have been interested in for a while. The West Memphis Three case convicted three teenage boys of three counts of capital murder even though there was not any DNA evidence to prove it and they all had alibis but yet it took about 18 years to let those men walk free. If the police investigation process was quicker and more efficient and filled with less assumptions and false accusations the case would not have been ruined and it would not have put three innocent men in jail for 18 years. It is crazy to think about how long these investigations take but it is even crazier to think about the people that suffer as a result of these lengthy processes.

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  3. Hi Jimmy,
    This was an interesting topic that related a lot to what we’ve talked about in class lately. When you were talking about how a one hour episode can make the whole investigation seem like it takes a few days, it reminded me of the speaker, David Englert. The media does widely misrepresent how many processes of the justice system are conducted which may influence us into thinking the actual process is really long by comparison. I agree with you that it is difficult to say that the process should be sped up because that does create a higher risk of making a mistake. On the other hand, taking 8 years to free someone and determine they’re innocent is a really long time for them to wait. The point you included about how some states have different turnover rates however, makes it seem like it could be possible to speed up some of the processes at least a little bit quicker than 127 days. Because of this, I think if it is possible to speed up the process by hiring more people to work in the labs or building more facilities then it would be beneficial but rushing the process in an already crowded facility could cause a higher likelihood of making a mistake in the process.

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  4. Jimmy,
    When you mentioned the forensic evidence turnaround time, I expected that number to average around 10 days. Therefore, the chart you provided was very surprising to me. I believe that I am a prime example of the media effect you mentioned. I think the reason why I was so off is because, like you mentioned, I am used to watching crime shows where they solve an entire murder in an hour. One thing I noted was that you mentioned how in some states a rush order averaged to about 1-2 days. Therefore, it is possible for evidence to be processed and examined that quickly. With that in mind, I do believe that it is possible to speed up the process in other states. However, I think that there must be differences in between states with a small turnaround time and states with a large turnaround time. I think that we need to look at the difference in the number or analysts and forensic scientist and look at the number of crimes being committed that requires evidence to be looked at between these states. States with a high number of cases that require evidence to be looked at and a low number of forensic scientists would probably have a much larger turnaround time. I think that we should attempt to speed up this process, so that it does not take 3-4 months in some states. The faster the evidence is examined, the faster individuals can go to trial. This is important because the 6th Amendment reserves the right to a speedy trial for people, meaning that people should not have to wait long after their arrest to go to court.
    -Danyelle Rinker

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  5. This makes me so angry. Obviously evidence is important to convict the guilty, but what about the innocent? What the hell is taking so long to test evidence?? I can’t believe that in 2017, people might still have to sit in jail for years just waiting for evidence to get tested. And I know from other sources that they are really backed up in terms of past cases and testing old evidence with new technology. I don’t know how all of this works but I definitely think we need to be putting more money and more time into testing evidence so the guilty can be put away and the innocent can go back to their lives. Don’t even get me started on all the evidence they don’t test (*coughrapekitscough*). I think our criminal justice system can do better. I like to think that with all the technology and science we have now that evidence can be tested accurately at a much faster rate and I would much rather the government spend money on this than on a wall…or 14 golf outings in 10 weeks…………

    Rachel Cowgill

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