Influencing policy and practice in the investigation and prevention of homicide
Research conducted by the University of South Wales (USW) is helping to improve outcomes in police homicide investigations.
Investigating and preventing homicide is particularly challenging due to the growth in volume and complexity of digital data, weak collaboration between agencies, and rapid growth in certain types of homicide such as knife and gang-related homicide. In addition, the impact of forensic science on criminal justice outcomes is largely unknown.
Research led by Professor Fiona Brookman has provided evidence-based solutions to these challenges and informed policy and practice nationally and internationally.
Since 2013, these include in the UK: improvements in quality and timeliness of data on the Homicide Index; input to government debates on knife crime and homicide reduction; influence on the Home Office Forensic Science Strategy; revisions to national CCTV strategies and training; co-development with the Home Office of forensic science impact measures; and direct influence on investigative practice (e.g. via contributions to training and key practice guidelines such as the Murder Investigation Manual).
Between 2015 and 2019, Professor Brookman led the first British ethnographic study of the role of forensic sciences and technologies (FSTs) in the investigation of homicide – the Homicide Investigation and Forensic Science (HIFS) project funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It involved data collection from four police services, covered 44 investigations and included 144 interviews with practitioners, analysis of numerous case files and 700 hours of observation of 11 ‘live’ homicide investigations, from crime scene to court.
Research findings from the HIFS project have led to more effective dialogue and early engagement between police, forensic scientists, digital experts, and the Crown Prosecution Service, in some UK police services. The findings also informed the national Digital Forensic Science Strategy, informed revisions to national CCTV strategies and training, and led to the redirection of funds towards digital-forensic work, increasing capacity and capability.
Alex Heare, Digital Forensic Technical Manager at West Midlands Police, said: "[This] work has objectively evidenced the impact of CCTV in investigations, which has historically been undervalued and, in turn, under-resourced and underfunded nationally. I presented the research paper to my Senior Leadership Team and as a result, additional funds were made available to our Digital Forensics Unit… We will have additional tools to be more effective but also training for all staff in emerging threats in CCTV such as encryption, hacking and cloud. The effectiveness of Digital Forensic evidence, especially CCTV, is hugely under appreciated and the work [that has been done] to evidence this fact is literally gold dust."
In 2020, Professor Brookman's insights on the Home Office Homicide Index were discussed at the Prime Minister chaired Taskforce on Criminal Justice. This led to new collaboration between Home Office statisticians and police to improve data quality and timeliness, and also increasing the availability and accessibility of data for academics. For example, a new data capture interface is being developed to enable more accurate determination of patterns and trends, and inform bespoke prevention measures.
Professor Brookman’s research has also impacted positively on policing in Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and in Trinidad and Tobago.
Jacquie Hayes, Head of Analytics and Research Team, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) noted that: “The evidence review, along with the recommendations made, were extremely useful to HMICFRS. The findings increased our understanding of how gang-related homicide and police corruption in Trinidad and Tobago can be tackled most effectively and directly informed the design of our review of homicide prevention and investigation in Trinidad and Tobago.”