Police Techniques for Investigating Serious Violent Crime: A Systematic Review

By Higginson, Angela; Eggins, Elizabeth et al. | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Police Techniques for Investigating Serious Violent Crime: A Systematic Review


Higginson, Angela, Eggins, Elizabeth, Mazerolle, Lorraine, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


Serious violent crime is a persistent and significant criminal justice issue and contributes significantly to the costs of crime in Australia (Rollings 2008). Police are at the front line of controlling and responding to serious violent crime, and investigation is a major part of their role (Newburn 2007; Palmiotto 2004; Roberts 2007; Stelfox 2013). The techniques police use to investigate serious violent crime play a large role in determining whether an offender is identified, arrested and/or makes a confession, which can affect whether cases are cleared or convictions secured.

Although investigating and responding to serious violent crime is a core component of police work, clearance rates have either stagnated or declined in recent decades (Horvath et al. 2001; Litwin & Xu 2007; Mustaine et al. 2012; Riedel 2008; Worrall 2016). Ineffective investigations and unsolved serious violent crimes can have ramifications on many levels for victims, the general public, the police and the criminal justice system. When serious violent offenders are not apprehended or cases are not investigated effectively, victims may experience additional trauma (Riedel & Jarvis 1998). There is a risk that additional serious violent crimes may be committed and victims may be reluctant to report serious violent crimes in the future (Cole 2007; Cronin et al. 2007, Turner & Kosa 2003). These issues have important implications for the criminal justice system. For example, the deterrent effect of apprehending, prosecuting and convicting serious violent offenders may be diminished, and citizens may lose confidence in the police (Curry et al. 2013; Regoeczi et al. 2000).

Although criminal investigation is a substantial component of police work, and although solving and dealing with serious violent crime is critically important, the evidence base around police techniques for investigating serious violent crime lacks the level of synthesis seen in other fields of policing and in general crime and disorder.

Specifically, this study systematically evaluates the impact of police investigative techniques on key police outcomes related to serious violent crime:

* identifying offenders;

* arrests;

* eliciting confessions;

* convictions; and

* closing cases.

Defining serious violent crime and police investigative techniques

Serious violent crime is defined in various ways in the literature and the distinction between violent crime and serious violent crime, in particular, varies. This research takes the most common approach (see, for example, Day et al. 2012; Kramer & Ulmer 2002; Truman et al. 2013) and defines the following offences as serious violent crime:

* murder;

* manslaughter;

* rape or other sexual assault;

* aggravated assault; and

* robbery.

Defining techniques for investigating serious violent crime is more straightforward. A police investigative technique is any activity or strategy used by police to gather evidence to identify and arrest offenders, elicit confessions, close cases or secure convictions (Newburn 2007; Palmiotto 2004; Stelfox 2013). Examples include but are not limited to:

* collecting or testing DNA;

* line-ups;

* interrogation;

* profiling; and

* surveillance.

Method

Systematic review is at the forefront of evidence-based policy and practice. Systematic reviews use search, screening and analytic techniques to summarise quantitative research evidence concisely, robustly and comprehensively (Welsh & Farrington 2006).

Inclusion criteria

Any research that used an experimental, or quasi-experimental, research design with a valid comparison group to examine the impact of a police investigative technique on an eligible outcome in a case of serious violent crime was eligible for inclusion in the review. To be included, a study had to report on one of the following outcomes (or an equivalent):

* offender identification;

* arrest;

* confession;

* case closure; or

* conviction. …

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