Why do the police rely so much on CCTV and mobile phone location to solve crimes? These methods are useful, sure, but what about forensics?
A serial killer was caught in Patiala earlier this year. He had been killing since 1995. Despite being a suspect in two of the murders early on, he was never charged because there was no evidence. He continued to kill. Finally, it was CCTV evidence which helped the police nab him. Without this, he would still be killing.
Before the popularity of CCTVs and the advent of mobile phones, the Indian police usually relied on eye-witnesses and confessions (mostly coerced). Not much has changed. Eye-witness accounts have been replaced by camera footage and mobile phone locations. And as for coerced confessions, this is still the norm. But even the not-so-smart criminals ditch their cell phones and try and avoid CCTV cameras while committing crimes.
If the police went the whole hog in collecting forensic evidence, the situation would be different. But this happens only in important cases. Even post-mortems of victims are done in a hurry by untrained people – in most of the cases.
The details of the Patiala case are unknown to the public but an episode of Crime Patrol gives us some idea. Sure, this reality crime show tends to embellish the truth to hide the real identities of people, but the major features of the crime are usually authentic. In the imitation of the Patiala serial killer case, it is revealed that the murderer was known to all the victims…and yet the police could not find evidence of the suspect’s involvement. How could they, without forensics being collected at the scene?
Evidence like clothes fibres, fingerprints, soil samples, footprints, and DNA need to be collected from a crime scene. In this case, yes, it would have been hard to find fingerprints on a rough, semi-porous like a brick (the murder weapon used) but there are techniques to attempt to get at least a partial fingerprint. Did the investigating team even try to do this? And what about other forensic evidence? No footprints?
India’s central and state forensics labs (some state-of-the-art) are understaffed and overworked no doubt, but the question is whether crime scenes are sacrosanct and whether evidence is collected at all. Are the Inspectors who investigate crimes trained in collect evidence from crime scenes? Are the doctors who conduct autopsies on victims trained?
We all know the answer to this question.