RCMP's Forensic Support

By Montague, Arthur | Law & Order, May 2002 | Go to article overview
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RCMP's Forensic Support


Montague, Arthur, Law & Order


Use of technology in law enforcement has undergone profound advances in recent years. Not only are law enforcement agencies putting to use technology developed by the private sector, some jurisdictions have developed their own. A standout among the latter is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Two of the programs developed by the RCMP are gaining worldwide acceptance: the Violent Crimes Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS) and the National DNA Databank of Canada.

Experienced major crimes investigators have recognized for years that the seriousness of sex-related violence tends to escalate over time and that offenders tend to travel frequently from region to region. Not only does the progression of violence make early apprehension an urgent priority, work can be further complicated by the need for multi-agency communication, cooperation and support.

Until a decade ago tracking similar offenses and patterns was often reliant on investigators' personal contacts in other enforcement jurisdictions. The FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) program has provided some support for homicide investigators, proving to be a useful tool in many cases. Since VICAP's implementation, the investigative arsenal for profiling has profoundly increased. However, the inability to capture cross-regional data on cases other than homicide- notably sexual assaults- resulted in many predators having a window of opportunity to escalate the violence of their activities before apprehension.

ViCLAS

In 1991, pressured by the need for instruments to combat multi-jurisdiction serial homicide, the RCMP developed and implemented a program known as the Violent Crimes Linkage Analysis System (ViCLAS). Operating as local law enforcement in much of Canada with the exception of two provinces, maintaining strategic support centers across the country and employing 300 forensic scientists the RCMP was ideally suited to carry out this work.

To develop ViCLAS the RCMP drew on the best of other systems, including VICAR The program was designed to capture data regarding many offenses, as well as homicide. Its primary purpose is to help track and identify serial violent cases and criminals. Collected nationally, data includes that for cases already solved, open cases where offenders are unknown, cases involving significant violence, and convicted offender information when probability of reoffending is judged to be high.

Since its inception ViCLAS has undergone considerable refinement. Version Four is expected to be available at the end of 2002, according to Superintendent Glenn Woods, officer-in-charge of the RCMP Behavioral Sciences Branch.

The ViCLAS entry point is a standardized 168-question booklet, filled in by investigating officers then forwarded to one of 10 ViCLAS centers in Canada. All of these centers are linked by encrypted client-server technology through the National Police Service Network. The original booklet contained more than 200 questions, gradually reduced as some were found to be too open-ended or unnecessary. A team drawn from users reviews the booklet and other aspects of ViCLAS annually. To ensure consistency, the RCMP continues to hold final authority for any changes.

The booklet is designed to capture specifics of modus operandi, offender characteristics, victimology, crime scene forensic information, geography and key fact evidence. The latter is contained in a special section of the booklet and is treated more securely than any other data provided by investigators. Access is restricted, custom passwords are required, and log-on sources are recorded. This heightened level of access security has contributed to more confidence on the part of investigators to disclose key fact information, which is crucial for ViCLAS analysts.

The analytic process is rigorous. Before booklet data is entered into the system, ViCLAS specialists review it for appropriateness and completeness.

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