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*
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