Scientific Support Branch is part of Crime Operations Department but it provides expertise and technical support to the entire Police Service across a range of disciplines, which include:
- Crime Scene Investigators
- Management of serious crime scenes
- Fingerprint bureau
- Photography and mapping
- Forensic advice
Scientific Support Branch is one of the largest service providers in the Police Service with 180 staff and an annual budget for cost-intensive processes of £16 million.
Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs)
CSIs attend and examine crime scenes to recover evidence, at the request of investigating officers. They can be called to any crime scene where there is the potential for evidence to be recovered. Scenes can range from domestic burglaries to murders. Our 56 CSIs, based in offices across Northern Ireland, attended 17,500 incidents last year.
On arriving at a scene the first job a CSI undertakes is to record the scene. This can be done in several ways - by making notes, taking photographs or videoing the scene. A forensic assessment is then carried out. Once this is complete, they recover and package any relevant evidence. This evidence can be used in court cases to secure convictions.
CSIs rely on Locard's principle that "every contact leaves a trace". This means that every time a person comes into contact with an object, they leave something on that object and part of that object could be transferred to them. CSIs can recover evidence such as fingerprints, DNA, footwear marks, fibres, instrument marks and paint samples.
Located at Police headquarters in Belfast, the Fingerprint bureau provides technical support to investigating officers by recording, comparing and identifying individuals by means of fingerprints. This includes:
- Receipt of finger and palm imprints recovered from a scene of crime
- Receipt of inked finger/palm print forms for analysis, recording and storage
- Identification of unknown individuals
- Comparison of recovered finger and palm imprints with finger and palm impressions of a known identity
- Generation, maintenance and upkeep of the PSNI database of finger and palm impressions and unidentified crime scene imprints
- Chemical examination of exhibits recovered from crime scenes, photography and processing of resulting imprints
- Preparation of information or evidence for use in legal processes and the recording of criminal records.
The Police Service maintains the national fingerprint collection for Northern Ireland. Currently there are over 250,000 individual fingerprint forms stored within the main collection.
Our teams search and compare scene of crime marks, from scene locations and retrieved articles, with fingerprints held on file, to identify offenders and eliminate individuals with legitimate access to crime scenes.
Last year the Fingerprint bureau made 2,500 identifications. Another 800 identifications through DNA were secured through Forensic Science.
Our Imaging Branch provides support and expertise to serious crime investigations in the form of scenes of crime photography and video, specialist photographic techniques, CCTV recovery and enhancement and injury photography.
Imaging officers also provide photographic and video support to serious road traffic collision investigations, public order evidence gathering teams, the State Pathologist, the PSNI College at Garnerville and, resources permitting, volume crime investigations.
The Way Forward
Scientific Support is breaking new ground in retrieving unusual samples from scenes and scoring hits on its databases which have allowed investigators to link offences, identify offenders and secure convictions.
Science is moving on. Scientific support staff are getting fingerprints and DNA from items which would not have been possible before and they’re working to get the results processed faster and back to the investigators, to allow them to do their jobs better and to make Northern Ireland safer for everyone.