In a first, K’taka police to set up posts for civilian experts
One of the important changes that is underway is the creation of a new post called Scene of Crime Officers (SoCOs)
The Karnataka police are in the process of making a paradigm shift in the way police investigations are being conducted in the state. The police department, where officers and the constabulary have been handling almost all aspects of the investigation, is now changing the equation by adding more experts from the civilian domain to the investigation. With the new dynamics in place, the role of the uniformed policemen is expected to reduce, increasing the police-civilian expert ratio.
One of the important changes that is underway is the creation of a new post called Scene of Crime Officers (SoCOs). The post is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the state where a dedicated section of civilian experts will take over the responsibilities of securing a crime scene, collecting forensic evidence and storing them. While these SoCOs will be under the operational command of the police, they will be part of a department which will be separate from the police.
“SoCOs will be experts guiding police in handling evidence at the scene of crime. They will identify, collect, handle and most importantly preserve evidence from the spot. Attached with the forensic science laboratory (FSL), these experts will be scientific officers and specially trained to handle sensitive evidence like DNA,” said director general and inspector general of police (DG&IGP), Karnataka, Praveen Sood.
The move to appoint SoCOs comes in the backdrop of setbacks faced by the police while gathering evidence.
In a 2021 high-profile drug-peddling case, hair follicle samples of several accused, including two Sandalwood (Kannada film industry) actresses, had been sent to the Hyderabad forensic laboratory to test for consumption of narcotics. The Hyderabad laboratory had sent back the samples taking exception to the unprofessional packing — done by the cops investigating the case — in a newspaper.
“As of now, 206 SoCOs are currently undergoing training at the National Forensic Science University and they will join the Karnataka state police force after completing the same. With their inclusion, chances of errors in collecting and handling evidence from the crime scene will become less and the police investigators will be able to focus on their probe,” Sood added.The SoCOs are expected to join the state police in early 2023.
The SoCOs, however, are one part of the larger changes taking place in the forensic investigation in the state.
Apart from streamlining the evidence collection, Karnataka police have also introduced a mobile forensic lab, revamped the FSL in Bengaluru with advanced equipment, fixed loopholes to avoid tampering with evidence and filled all vacancies pending in the forensic sciences department.
FSL director Dharmender Kumar Meena said that SoCOs will be the first step of the change. “From the beginning of an investigation, the police department will have access to professional forensic services. This is where the SoCOs come in place as they are the first step of the process. The SOCOs are human resources and they need specialised equipment.”
“For this, we have procured mobile forensic labs, which are vehicles fitted with advanced forensic equipment. So, an investigating officer is getting forensic experts and the latest equipment at the scene of the crime from the start,” said the director.
Once the evidence is collected and handed over to the investigation officer, she or he will run the probe. During this time, the second part of the forensic labs comes into play.
“We have expanded our forensic science capabilities over the last few years and we currently have a state-of-the-art forensic lab and seven regional hubs. These labs take care of more than 13 sections of forensic evidence… in fact, ours is the second lab in the country after the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to have a brain mapping facility,” he added.
While the department has invested manpower and equipment, the delay in providing reports still remains a problem for the state police. The average time taken for providing a report for mobile and audio video forensics in the state is close to two-and-a- half years. When it comes to DNA analysis, the time taken is close to one year. “There are delays at present, especially in mobile, audio-video analysis and DNA. But we have procured equipment that we believe will reduce this time. For example, earlier DNA was extracted manually. Now, we have a machine which does the job in half the time,” said Meena.
He added that the target for the department is to bring down time for analysing mobile and audio-video analysis from around two years to nine months. For the DNA analysis, the department has set the target to reduce the time from one year to one month by the end of August 2023.
“There is change in the mindset of the investigating officers over the last few years. We have had low conviction rates because of the lack of solid evidence. Now, officers have realised that forensic and scientific evidence is the best way to ensure conviction and are using the forensic labs more,” said Sood.
“The collection of evidence, especially by the lower rank policemen and delays were our biggest concerns. These are being addressed now and we are certain that conviction rates will go up in the coming years,” said Sood.