Averagely, Ghana’s crime rate has been on the rise since 2018. According to the 2021 public safety and crime report, violent crimes rose by 40.8% from 2020 to 2021. The same report indicates that the leading forms of violent crimes in the country were manslaughter, armed robbery and aggravated assault.
Criminal investigation is gradually becoming a very rigorous process throughout the world. The police rely on experts from various fields to successfully get to the bottom of what happens during the occurrence of crime. One of the factors that have contributed to the general rigor in criminal investigation is the lack of public and police forensic awareness in general.
The Ghana Police Service commissioned the Forensic Science Laboratory in 2011 to improve criminal investigation in Ghana. This, being progress, has its own challenges, especially in crime and forensic awareness of the police and the general public
Data from the Ghana Police Service indicates that at least 200,000 complaints are reported annually since 2016. This means that on average, about 547 crimes are reported daily and 22 on an hourly basis
It is important to increase education and awareness to the public on the dos and don’ts in order to avoid self-incrimination and obstruction of justice.
Forensic awareness is thus important in preserving evidence that eventually leads to the proper delivery of justice.
Types of crime scenes and how to recognize them
Indoor crime scenes are usually within an enclosed, covered or roofed area like a bedroom, enclosed garage, classroom, kitchen, cabinet among others. This can also be a place where a crime has been committed, which includes an indoor space which has evidence from a crime like a rubber bag containing a bloody knife stuck under a bed.
One must note that the entire area of a crime scene might not be limited by what is seen by a victim or a witness of a crime or its scene. For instance, when a crime occurs in the master bedroom of a two-bedroom self-contained apartment, the entire apartment is considered a crime scene by the law enforcement agency in charge of the investigation.
Sometimes, this might also extend to places beyond that apartment. It is the job of law enforcement to establish the entire area of the crime scene. It is also important to note that if any suspicious object, instrument or mark such as a gun, a bloody knife, a blood-soaked towel or bedspread or towel, a bloody footprint or handprint, particularly one suspected of being part of a crime is found within an enclosed area, that place is to be considered a crime scene until otherwise confirmed.
Some odd indoor scenes
Crime scenes are not always bloody red. Recently, attention has been called to the rise of kidnapping and human trafficking in Ghana. These types of crimes do not always present the types of crime scenes the ordinary citizen is used to. Extra vigilance is needed to spot these types of crimes to report them.
Data from the Ghana Police Service’s cybercrime bureau suggests that the most prevalent cybercrime in Ghana is cyber fraud, which accounts for more than 45% of all cybercrime-related cases.
It is important to look at it from an indoor crime scene perspective. Most cybercrimes are committed by actors from within a room. Besides this, most cyber fraudsters have been found to operate in groups. The public is encouraged to be vigilant when one sees a lot of people inhabiting a location and in possession of lots of computing devices such as laptops, webcams, routers and modems.
Because this form of crime hinges on publicity, its telltale signs are loud, just not before it is orchestrated. The variability in the way it is carried out makes it a bit challenging to spot especially in an indoor context. Here is something worth noting though: it is advisable for one to be suspicious when encountering a stockpile of unidentified crates in an indoor space. Large volumes of nitrate-based fertilizer (urea, ammonia, nitrates) in an indoor space especially one not owned by a farmer.
Outdoor crime scenes
Just like it sounds, an outdoor crime scene is an environmentally exposed location where a crime has been committed like a compound, on the road, a park, an exposed farm, a backyard garden, scenes of motor accidents, disasters, explosions and natural disasters.
Because of the level of environmental exposure, evidence from outdoor is at the mercy of environmental conditions.
Some odd outdoor scenes
Clandestine labs are used to produce illicit drugs. Because of the possible danger such actors might pose, it is unlikely that an outsider would find himself inside. Some of the signs of having a clandestine lab include having a high frequency of pungent emissions from an enclosed house, frequent generation and disposal of a lot of refuse and a consistently high level of security.
The conveyance scene
Crimes that occur on moving means of transportation are conveyance crimes. Examples could be vans (trotros), taxis, trains, planes, canoes, boats, ships etc. Basically, any crime which occurs aboard any form of vehicle is considered a conveyance crime. Car snatching and hijacking also form part of this category.
Some other things worth discussing
The electronic crime scene
The advent of information technology in light of Covid-19 has increased our reliance on electronic devices and the internet. Because of their rising nature and the generally low rate of cybersecurity awareness, it is likely a greater part of the population has already interacted with an electronic crime scene.
The commonest of such attacks are social engineering schemes in which victims or targets are called to give critical information that renders their digital security vulnerable. Other forms of attacks including the deployment of various malware to access information and hold a device or organization hostage all have one thing in common.
They involve digital devices such as mobile phones, laptop and desktop computers, smart watches and emerging domestic Internet of Things devices that store data valuable to investigation.
The human body
Certain crimes, leave valuable evidence on the human body. Sexual crimes such as rape and defilement tend to leave valuable but transient forms of evidence on the bodies of the victim or perpetrator of the crime. In such cases, it is imperative to note the evidential value of the victim and take the necessary steps to not lose them.
Despite the various forms of evidence mentioned, it is important to note that even the most organized crimes do not always go as planned and most often than not, a single crime may transcend two or more types of crime scenes.
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The writer of this report, Sedem Kwasigah, is a Fellow of the Next Generation Investigative Journalism Fellowship at the Media Foundation for West Africa.