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Methods of Inquiry in Criminal Investigation

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There are many investigative techniques used in a criminal investigation. Each technique is different in providing evidence that can be used in the courtroom to prove someone guilty or innocent. Some of these investigative techniques are intelligence databases, forensic techniques, profiling techniques, surveillance techniques, and interview techniques.

The use of intelligence databases has been used in criminal investigations. This refers to information that has been obtained and recorded. This can be stored in a variety of different databases. One is the Police National Database which includes intelligence about suspected criminal activity. It holds over 3.5 billion searchable records. Another database is the Police National Computer which stores extensive information on people`s arrests and convictions, vehicles and driving licenses, and finally missing and wanted people. In the brief, the police checked the police databases for known offenders living in the area. By doing so, they can identify any offenders who live within where the murder was committed and be able to match any patterns or occurrences to find a suspect. Furthermore, another database is the Criminal and the Gangs Matrix. This includes information on criminals, suspects, protesters, and suspected gang members. Finally, the last of the databases would be the international databases. The information used in databases can also be accessed and shared by different countries. Examples of the data would be INTERPOL databases on child sexual exploitation, biometric records, stolen property, firearms, and organized crime networks. In a criminal investigation, the Police National Database would be the most useful. This is because if the databases were in the Police Station, they would have quick access. This can allow police to receive details for a suspect or already have a profile for another criminal which gave help them to convict an offender. Also, due to it having over 3.5 billion searchable records, there is a huge likelihood of retrieving details of suspects. However, the Criminal and the Gang Matrix may be the least useful because it has been criticized for being racially discriminatory, and in 2017, the names and addresses of 203 alleged gang members were accidentally leaked and those named suffered serious violence from rival gangs.

One investigative technique useful in criminal investigations would be forensic techniques. This includes scientific tests to examine evidence like biological materials; blood, semen, and hair; as well as fingerprints, shoe prints, weapons, fibers, paint, etc. In the brief, investigators found footprints and a red scarf which allowed the police to look for DNA evidence to match Gareth Hughes. DNA analysis has led to important developments in solving serious crimes since fingerprinting was invented. Furthermore, it has led to samples of family members' DNA being used to aid the identification of offenders, due to the similarity of DNA profiles. For example, this was apparent in the case of Collette Aram. Colette Aram was raped and murdered in 1983 before DNA analysis existed. However, the offender (Paul Hutchinson) was found and convicted due to a similarity in DNA samples, after his son was arrested for motoring offenses later on.

Forensic techniques can be very useful in criminal investigations. Due to DNA being found in almost every cell and each person`s being unique, this allows for easy identification of those in the databases and provides a profile of the offender. Also, even if the DNA cannot be matched, DNA from close relatives, such as siblings, have many similarities in common and matches may be made from this. Through this, it can prove a suspect to be innocent or guilty and avoid any miscarriages of justice. This allows for forensic techniques to be extremely useful in criminal investigations because it provides high chances of profiling and convicting the perpetrator.

However, forensic techniques may not be useful in criminal investigations. This is due to the possibility of contamination. When collecting DNA material, investigators must secure the scene and wear protective clothing. However, if this does not occur contamination can occur and result in a miscarriage of justice. This was the case with Adam Scott, who was wrongly convicted of rape after the contamination of a DNA sample. Also, forensic techniques may not use because to match DNA samples, the offender must be in the Police National Database. Furthermore, with DNA tests being quite expensive, the recent budget cuts in many forensic fields may lead to certain cases being burdensome as they are unable to fund the DNA evidence needed to prove someone guilty or innocent.

Another investigative technique that is useful in criminal investigations would be Profiling techniques. This is when by examining the characteristics of an offense, we can predict the characteristics of the offender. One type of profiling is typological profiling. This aims to put offenders into different types by the characteristics of how they behave at the crime scene. Profiling divides the crime scene and the offender into organized and disorganized types. For example, an organized murderer would have above-average intelligence, be manipulative, and be angry at the time of the attack, whereas a disorganized murderer would be socially inadequate and be frightened or confused at the time of the attack. By doing this, the police can identify and narrow down their search for the offender and predict future behavior. Another type of profiling is clinical profiling. This is when clinical psychologists use their professional experience to get into the mind of the offender this allows them to gain insight to predict future behavior. This was used in the brief, where a criminal psychologist was used to create an offender profile of the killer, which led to the arrest of Gareth Hughes who fitted the description given. The third type of profiling is geographic profiling. Due to offenders making choices about where they offend, geographical profiling aims to investigate where the offenses occurred to identify where the offender lives. This is based on the least effort principle (where the offender chooses the offender nearer to home) and the buffer zone principle (where offenders will avoid offending too close to home). This has been explained through the marauder whereby drawing a circle through the two furthest apart offenses, the offender will live in the middle. The commuter where the offender will travel away from home and once they are there, the crimes will all be clustered together. For example, this was the case with John Duffy. 23 women were raped at railway stations throughout the southeast. Geographical profiling was used by studying where the rapes occurred, and the patterns involved with the offenses. This helped profile Duffy and identified where he lives to convict him.

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There are several advantages to profiling techniques being used in criminal investigations. One strength would be it can link crimes committed by the same offender. This can be very useful as it can allow police to be ahead of the offender and to be able to find and convict them before any further offending occurs. Also, through this, we can predict future offenses and prevent any further victims. Furthermore, profiling can be useful in criminal investigations as it can help the police target their resources and priories suspects. With recent budget cuts in the police departments, there is a lack of resources. However, targeting the offender early on, allows for fewer resources to be used and therefore can save them for bigger cases.

However, there are also some weaknesses to profiling techniques, which may lead to them being not useful in criminal investigations. For example, typological profiling can be useful in a criminal investigation because it allows offenders to be caught sooner and prevents any future crimes to occur. However, the profile based on the offender`s likely personality is subjective and may be completely different from the offender`s actual personality. This would prove that profiling to not be useful in criminal investigations. Also, clinical profiling could produce unsupported speculation about the offender's characteristics and motivations. This may sidetrack the investigation and may lead to arresting innocent people. This occurred in the case of Rachel Nickell. Rachel was murdered in broad daylight in 1992. Paul Britton, a criminal profiler, was used in the investigation and Colin Stagg was convinced to be the murderer as he fitted the description. However, they lacked forensic evidence and therefore, Britton came up with a plan to tempt Stagg into a confession using a honey trap. Although Stagg didn`t confess, he was still charged with the murder. However, with the use of the honey trap, the trial collapsed as they tried to incriminate an innocent suspect. Profiling techniques, such as geographical profiling can be useful in criminal investigations because it has been able to predict where to find the offender in a range of crimes e.g., rape, arson, etc. However, if the offenders change patterns and ways of offending, profilers will find it difficult to predict the offender`s future offending. Also, geographical profilers rely on accurate data. If crime locations are not recorded correctly, this will make the map inaccurate. Despite this, geographical profiling may be the most useful in a criminal investigation. This is because it can help with a variety of crimes, and it can help prevent any future offending and save further victims. Also, it can help you track down where the offender lives and be able to arrest and convict them to bring rightful justice.

Another investigative technique that is useful in criminal investigations would be Surveillance techniques. Surveillance techniques involve watching over someone or something to help provide evidence for criminal investigations. This can involve CCTV, Covert surveillance, and observation. CCTV is used to give 24-hour coverage of a location, and the crime and to help identify the offender and victims. This is very useful in a criminal investigation. For example, it proved very useful in the case of James Bulger. James Bulger was abducted, tortured, and murdered by two 10-year-old boys. Bulgers' body was found on the train tracks a few miles away from Liverpool`s shipping Centre. CCTV footage from the shopping Centre showed the offender observing the children and selecting Bulger. The boys walked out of the shopping Centre with Bulger, and CCTV footage found them walking toward the train station. It caught Thompson and Venables (the offenders) beating Bulger up and pushing him onto the train tracks. This footage was used in court, and Thompson and Venables got convicted guilty of murder. However, CCTV may not always be useful. This is because due to CCTV being fixed, it lacks the ability to follow a suspect around the corner. Also, CCTV cameras can be easily spotted which may result in offenders avoiding them or disguising themselves. Furthermore, CCTV footage may not always be of good quality, which may make it difficult or impossible to identify someone. Despite this, however, CCTV is the most useful in a criminal investigation. This is because CCTV cameras are placed in most streets, laboratories, police stations, and outside and within big institutions. With the camera running constantly, this increases the likelihood of catching criminal activity. This evidence may help convict someone of being guilty or proving someone`s innocence, which proves its usefulness in a criminal investigation.

Another type of surveillance technique would be covert surveillance. This is planned surveillance carried out so that those being monitored are unaware. Examples of covert surveillance are: tracking devices and GPS, tapping phones, unmarked police cars, etc. Cover Human Intelligence Sources can also be used. They are individuals who maintain a relationship with the target to gain information. Despite covert surveillance being successful in helping o gain information and insight into offenders to prevent future offending, it may be the most useful technique used in criminal investigations. This is because carrying out covert surveillance may breach the target's human rights to private life and entrapment. If carried out unethically, this can result in the information being found to be inadmissible and the case being collapsed. This will result in the technique being not useful. Covert Surveillance is pre-planned surveillance; however, observation is not. Observation may occur if a police officer not on duty unexpectedly comes across suspicious activity taking place. The police officer may keep the situation under observation to decide whether there is a crime being committed.

Finally, the last investigative technique used in criminal investigation is the interview technique. Interview techniques involve interviewing witnesses to a crime or experts that can help provide evidence to a court. One example of an interview technique is eyewitness testimonies. This is evidence given by a witness to a crime which is often accepted by juries as accurate, and more weight is given to this than to other types of evidence. In fact, in 74% of cases, a lineup identification was the only prosecution evidence as mentioned by the Devlin Committee in 1976. This can show the usefulness of the technique in criminal investigations. However, despite this, the innocent project showed that over 70% of the 352 wrongful convictions were due to eyewitness misidentifications. This may result in the technique being not useful. Also, eyewitness testimonies may have problems in criminal investigations. This is due to the nature of relying on a witness`s memory acquisition (how well they absorbed the details of the crime), memory retention (storing the events for long periods of time), and memory retrieval (how well the witness recalls the memory accurately). The witness's memory may be affected by the crime, resulting in them providing inaccurate details of a crime and therefore being not useful in a criminal investigation. For example, in the brief, two witnesses came forward and claimed to have seen a man acting suspiciously in the park. However, when brought in to identify the man from the lineup, only one of them showed up. The witness who identified Gareth Hughes could`ve recognized his face due to the mass media interest the case was receiving and therefore gave an inaccurate statement. This case was brought to the innocent project to be checked upon as the eyewitness testimony may have given a misidentification, resulting in a miscarriage of justice for Gareth Hughes. In order to avoid these problems, the cognitive interview is brought instead of the standard police interview. This includes asking the witness to reinstate the context of the crime. This involves imagining themselves back in the situation; and reporting everything they saw. Using cognitive interviews in criminal investigations can prove to be extremely useful because it maximizes the chances of gaining accurate information from witnesses and therefore provides useful evidence to be used in court.

Another example of an interview technique would be expert witnesses. They can play an important role in criminal investigations by providing information and advice on different crimes and aspects of the investigation. For example, there are experts in fields such as blood patterns, fires, explosions, offenders' likely behavior, likely cause of death, insects, etc. In the case of Leanne Tierman, an expert in dogs was used. Leanne Tierman`s body was found in a shallow grave with her body with a black plastic bag over her head, held in place with a dog collar. The police called a canine expert to track down the collar, in which they found the suppliers of the dog collar and found that a man from Bramley had bought several like the one found around Leanne Tiernan`s neck. His name was John Taylor. The experts were able to trace dog hairs found on the collar and matched the dog to John Taylor, which led to his sentencing to two life sentences in July 2002. In February 2003, he was convicted of two rapes, based on DNA evidence, and given two additional life sentences. Expert interviews can be extremely useful in criminal investigations because police can ask them for clarification which allows there to be no miscommunication. Also, due to the specialist knowledge in many different categories, answers about the crime can be answered quickly and efficiently by the experts. However, despite having this specialist knowledge, experts may sometimes get it wrong and this can lead to a miscarriage of justice. For example, in the case of Sally Clark. Sally Clark was wrongly jailed for the murder of her two sons after an expert witness told the jury that the chances of both her baby`s death being accidental was one in 73 million. When in actual fact, experts now believe that the risk could have been as low as one in 100. Despite this, the expert witness would appear to be the most useful technique in a criminal investigation. This is because experts are more likely to have specialist knowledge in order to discuss parts of the crime. This can therefore explain what happened to the victim of any sort of crime and allow the police to understand what measures must take place next.

In a criminal investigation, there are many different techniques used. Techniques such as forensics, surveillance, interviews, and profiling. However, the technique that would be most useful in a criminal investigation would be forensics. This is because DNA is unique to everybody (other than twins) and can allow for matches on the databases to appear in previous offenders. Furthermore, if it is someone`s first offense and they are not on the database, close relatives' DNA has also been found to match. This is useful in a criminal investigation as it allows for the majority of first-time and reoccurring offenders to get identified with information that can help track them down in order to arrest and prosecute them rightfully.

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Methods of Inquiry in Criminal Investigation. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Methods of Inquiry in Criminal Investigation.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
Methods of Inquiry in Criminal Investigation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Methods of Inquiry in Criminal Investigation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from:
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