Forensic science is the application of science to law. Any science can be applied in to a legal situation, but some of the commonest forensic sciences include forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and forensic toxicology. The word forensic in today’s world simply means the application of something to a legal situation. Therefore, on its own, the word forensic means very little. When used in the term “forensic science” it means applying a SCIENCE into a legal setting. The important word here is SCIENCE. Therefore, you CANNOT be a forensic scientist without first being a scientist, and a very good and well-educated scientist as you will not only be analyzing and interpreting evidence which could be responsible for setting a person free or imprisoning them for life, but also you will and should be challenged to the utmost during cross-examination in court. Therefore, science must come first. If you wish to be, for instance, a forensic chemist, you must be a top of the line chemist first. Then you will be trained to apply your knowledge of chemistry into a legal setting. In most cases, forensic science is a little different from other branches of science. We just use our expertise to help solve crimes.

Although on television we see supposed ‘forensic scientists’ doing a multitude of jobs from crime scene analysis to shooting the bad guy, forensic science in real life is quite different. Television and fictional books suggest that one person is frequently an expert in many aspects of science. In reality, each area is a distinct specialty with many years of education and training required before a person can enter the field. If television heroes really had all the education required to be an expert in several fields, they would be well into their eighties before they even began their career.

There are several career options in the area of forensic science. Some of these positions are only available to sworn police officers, but many others are open to civilians.Many positions are full-time, while others are consultant positions. Forensic science careers exist in several areas including:

1. The Forensic Lab. There are many crime labs or forensic laboratories across Canada which employ civilian scientists to analyze evidence recovered from a crime scene.
2. Crime Scene Investigation. Crime scenes are analyzed by police officers in
Canada, not civilians. These officers are highly trained and specialized
Identification officers whose sole duty is to investigate and process crime scenes.
3. Death Scenes in general. Death scenes, with few exceptions, are attended by Coroners, Medical Examiners, or their trained death investigators, depending on Province. These people are civilians and work for their individual province, acting as an ombudsperson for the dead. If the death is suspicious, it is also attended and the scene processed by Identification (police) Officers.
4. Forensic Pathology. Forensic pathologists are specialized medical doctors who analyze the body, performing autopsies and determining such factors as the cause of death.
5. Other Forensic Specialists. There are many other forensic specialists including forensic anthropologists, entomologists, odontologists, engineers, botanists, artists, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, profilers and wildlife specialists, to name just a few.

The following is intended to describe some of the more common forensic positions.

There are many crime or forensic laboratories in Canada. These include Police labs such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Forensic Laboratory Service (FLS), and Provincial labs such as those found in Quebec and Ontario, and some private labs. Scientists who work in these labs are civilians and are unbiased professionals. They analyze forensic trace evidence in the lab and testify as expert witnesses in court, explaining their science and the results of their analyses, to the triers of fact. Sciences analyzed include forensic biology, forensic chemistry, forensic toxicology, questioned documents and firearms and tool mark examination. Most areas employ both specialists and technologists.

The RCMP FLS is responsible for conducting analyses and examinations of physical evidence in connection with police investigations anywhere in Canada. Its services are primarily available to police agencies, courts and government agencies in most provinces (Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial forensic laboratories). FLS consists of approximately 380 forensic scientists, technologists, and administrative personnel. Based on the results of their work, members of the Forensic Laboratory Services issue case reports and provide expert forensic testimony to the courts. In certain cases, the laboratory staff can—on request—provide advice and opinion to interpret evidence in situations where a hypothetical scenario may have been established, but laboratory examinations have not been requested.

The Forensic Laboratory Services complements the work of the National DNA Data Bank, which unlike the FLS, is responsible specifically for the analysis of convicted offender samples and the maintenance of the Convicted Offender and Crime Scene Indices. The Forensic Laboratory Services employs civilian staff as specialists and technologists in positions requiring various levels of post-secondary academic training and experience. More information on the RCMP and the Forensic Laboratory Services is available at http://www.rcmp-grc.ca. The RCMP labs are located in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Halifax  http://www.rcmp.ca/fls/home_e.htm).  Due to recent restructuring, areas of specialization have been created to consolidate expensive equipment such as gas and high-performance liquid chromatography instruments and to align specialties such as Evidence Recovery (Exhibit search) to Biology Analytical (the extraction of DNA and generation of DNA profiles). As a result, these laboratories do not offer full services at any given location but as a Laboratory Service Directorate with six service delivery sites, all major services (Biology, Toxicology, Chemistry, Documents and Firearms and Tool Mark Examination) remain accessible to investigators across Canada. In other words, if one is interested in becoming a Firearms and Tool Marks examiner, they will be limited to the Vancouver, Regina and Halifax laboratories, while entry-level positions in the Biology discipline are located in Ottawa and Vancouver only. Those considering a career with the RCMP Laboratory Services Directorate should be very flexible and be willing to move to a new city to accept a position.

The Provinces of Ontario and Quebec each have their own laboratory system that serves their respective provincial Police Services. The Centre of Forensic Sciences (CFS) has two sites: the central laboratory, located in Toronto, and a smaller regional laboratory in Sault Ste. Marie. As a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the two laboratories conduct scientific investigations in cases involving injury or death in unusual circumstances, and in crimes against persons or property. This service is provided to law enforcement officers, crown attorneys, defence counsel, coroners, pathologists, and other official investigative agencies in criminal cases, and to counsel in some civil cases.

The following will describe the major areas of science found in forensic labs:

Case Receipt Unit 

Evidence collected from a crime scene first enters the forensic lab in the Case Receipt Unit. All exhibits are tagged with a computerized monitoring system so their location and status can be followed by computers throughout the lab system. Any piece of evidence may require examination by several specialists. For instance, a firearm with a fingerprint in blood will require examination by Evidence Recovery, Biology, Firearms and Identification officers. Therefore, the coding system allows for the tracking of this exhibit throughout the CSFS – Careers in Forensic Science, Anderson, G.S. entire system so that its whereabouts and security are known at all times, as well as how far through the system it has been processed.


Evidence Recovery

Evidence Recovery is the process by which trained and qualified scientists search, identify, and recover forensically significant trace evidence material from exhibits submitted as part of a criminal investigation. In the context of the forensic laboratory, Evidence Recovery is the first step in a process that ultimately attempts to establish a particular association: between two (or more) persons (e.g. suspect and victim), a person and a place (e.g. suspect and crime scene), and/or a person and an object (i.e. suspect and weapon).

Once the search, identification, and recovery of the evidence are complete, it can then be analyzed, compared, and interpreted by other qualified forensic scientists. All of the work in Evidence Recovery is performed by using established and accredited scientific methodology in fields such as Biology and Chemistry. Although the Evidence Recovery Unit of the RCMP Forensic Laboratory System is described here, other laboratories across the country perform the same work, albeit sometimes under different titles and in different sections. Other laboratories may have slight differences in their structure; for instance, in which an individual is responsible for each step in the processing of the evidence.

Education and Further Training for a Search Technologist

Prospective understudies must have a minimum of a four year Bachelor of Science degree with Honours standing (or equivalent), from a recognized institute, in one of the following: biology, biochemistry, chemistry, medical laboratory science, or a forensic science-related area. Although not required, work experience in a laboratory setting is strongly preferred.

In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a Search Technologist (ST) is the individual responsible for recovering all the different types of trace evidence that may be encountered during the examination of exhibit material in an investigation. In the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale, in Quebec, the forensic specialists do the evidence recovery themselves and technologists are going to be trained for this in the future. Search Technologists undergo an understudy program upon engagement, consisting of an extensive review of

Search Technologists undergo an understudy program upon engagement, consisting of an extensive review of scientific literature dealing in all aspects of evidence search, identification, and recovery. They are also required to work under the supervision of qualified senior examiners in the examination of ongoing investigations, where they have the opportunity to acquire all of the tools necessary to properly search evidentiary material.

Towards the end of their understudy period,  understudies are required to successfully complete a number of written, oral, and practical examinations before they are deemed qualified, and can conduct their own work on cases submitted to the laboratory.

As a Search Technologist…

A technologist specialized in Evidence Recovery (such as a Search Technologist) typically will spend most of his/her day at the bench, performing the identification and recovery of specific biological evidence, such as semen, blood, saliva, hair, and trace DNA, as well as non-biological trace evidence, such as paint, glass and fibres, as the case may dictate.

As primary examiners in the forensic process, STs hold a great deal of responsibility in that their examinations and decisions in a case will have a great effect in the subsequent analysis and interpretation of the evidence.

Search Technologists are required to keep an accurate description of their examinations and results and are also responsible for the continuity of the evidence they examine. They also regularly interact with other members of the laboratory in order to obtain the necessary information to proceed with an examination, or to obtain the assistance needed to perform a specialized analysis.

Search Technologists are primarily “bench scientists”, but on rare occasions are called out to assist in the examination of crime scenes, where they mainly act in an advisory role to police investigators.

One of the most challenging and unique aspects of an ST’s role (and for any kind of forensic scientist) is having to defend the results of his/her examinations in a court of law. As technologists, STs are only called to defend the actual results of their examinations (they generally do not interpret the results) and are not required to attend court as often as forensic specialists, who are mainly responsible for the interpretation and reporting of evidence. 

Searching for Evidence

The R.C.M.P. Forensic Laboratory Services (FLS) plays a very important role in assisting police personnel in criminal investigations. The majority of the cases that the FLS examines can be classified as primary offenses, such as assaults (including aggravated and sexual assaults), break and enter type offenses, and homicides. The FLS also regularly assists in missing person type investigations.

As such, the type of evidence that is most commonly encountered in Evidence Recovery is biological in nature, and is mainly focused on establishing a forensic association using DNA profiling. DNA can be readily obtained from body fluids often present as evidence in criminal cases, such as semen, blood, and saliva. DNA can also be recovered from hairs, and from the sloughing of epithelial cells.

Search Technologists are trained to be able to identify body fluids such as semen and blood, for example, by performing a series of biochemical and microscopic tests that can either indicate the presence of body fluid or can positively identify the target body fluid.

For example, a positive result with the Fast Blue test, a biochemical test that assays for the enzyme acid phosphatase tell the examiner that semen may be present on a particular stain.

In contrast, the Haemochromogen test, used in blood identification, is specific since it crystallizes the iron core of hemoglobin, a molecule found only in blood. A positive result with Haemochromogen tells the examiner that the presence of blood is confirmed on a particular stain

A solid foundation in the biological sciences and chemistry is a must for an Evidence Recovery technologist. Since the bulk of forensic examinations involves the use of various specialized microscopes, microscopy is also an essential skill required in Evidence Recovery.

Equally as important to the job is the ability to analyze challenging situations, and to make critical decisions. Good communication and organizational skills are also key elements of the position.

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Author: FAC