"Justice delayed is justice denied, so despite being short-staffed our crime scene investigation [CSI] team works around the clock," said Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn Suramanee, assistant commissioner-general of the Thai Royal Police Office, who also supervises the Office of Forensic Sciences Department.
"Our CSI/forensic team often arrive after the first police officers at a crime scene. As crime scene investigators, our job is to identify, secure, collect, and preserve evidence which is then submitted to the crime laboratory. Evidence can include anything and everything from biological evidence such as blood, semen and saliva to fibres, fingerprints and hair. Then we can have impression evidence such as shoe prints, tyre tracks or tool marks, fracture patterns like glass fragments, pieces of adhesive tape and also narcotics. The list is endless, so we have to be meticulous during each step of the process. We can't afford to overlook anything."
Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn has worked with the Thai Police force for 34 years in multiple capacities, including CSI work. He admitted that while forensic and physical evidence gathering at crime scenes has been going on for years, the idea to name the team CSI Thailand came about just two years ago, influenced largely by the popularity of American TV dramas aired on cable.
While the spine-chilling drama that unfolds on CSI episodes often resembles the actual modus operandi used by criminals, the obvious difference between reality and fiction is the pace with which evidence gathering enables investigators to catch the real culprits.
Speaking with Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn, one can quickly gauge that working as a crime scene examiner is not as glamorous as it's often portrayed. For the hard work they put in behind the scenes, they are rarely appreciated, and often overworked to the point of exhaustion. Limited finances also don't help their cause.
CSI work, as seen on screen, is both sensitive and confidential, but viewers have to keep in mind that many things _ such as superior lab technology and making fiction characters heroic and infallible _ are added to spice up ratings, he said. In reality, it's not just the CSI, but each person involved plays a pivotal role in closing a case successfully.
Despite not being an avid CSI fan, Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn said there is an educational side to watching such shows.
"For one thing, the CSI series educates viewers on the importance of not contaminating evidence at a crime scene by leaving one's DNA there," said the top cop.
"Moreover, CSI fans would readily know that gathering evidence at the scene of a crime takes attention to detail and an observant eye. If they happen to be at the right place at the right time, they can assist our team in processing a crime scene, especially when a footprint or other physical evidence has been overlooked by an officer."
EVIDENCE TELLS A TALE
Evidence, noted Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn, generally divulges a tale and benefits crime scene investigators in reconstructing what happened and establishing the sequence of events.
Physical evidence can corroborate statements from victims, witnesses and also suspects. Physical evidence can be as simple as cobwebs found on top of a suspect's head, which can then be traced back to the crime scene. He is of the opinion that if examined and deciphered properly, physical evidence can be more reliable than testimonial evidence, since testimony is usually more subjective in nature.
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
The CSI/forensic team is one of the first to arrive at the crime scene. Taking photos is a central part of the data-gathering procedure, so every angle, from outside to inside, from long range to medium range to close up, is required to reconstruct what could have happened.
Documenting visual observations and outlining an overall layout of the area, indicating such information as the point of entry at a break-in, the location of the deceased, the places evidence was collected, spots where bloodstains were found, and so forth are part and parcel of this painstaking procedure.
Having worked cases in the capacity of both investigator and CSI, he noted that crime scene procedures and examination techniques helps determine suspects from evidence such as shoe prints and fingerprints, known as impression evidence, to bloodstain pattern evidence, all of which can help reconstruct how a crime occurred.
In police work, the testing and analysis of DNA is considered the most reliable of all the forensic tools at their disposal, noted Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn. But the police have other methods to draw on, too.
One of the most useful technologies in CSI work is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) _ commonly used in law enforcement where sets of prints are gathered at crime scenes, digitally captured and then compared to records in the system.
DNA fingerprinting, he said, has been used to successfully identify felons, resolve paternity cases and even acquit people wrongly convicted of a crime.
When the victim is charred beyond recognition, as in the case of the burned victims of a discotheque fire in Phuket recently, more complicated methods, such as cranial base evaluation and forensic dentistry, may be used to establish a positive identification.
The chance of AFIS getting it wrong is slim, says Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn, because no two fingerprints have ever been established to be the same and no two fingerprints on the same hand have ever been seen to match.
However, there are complications for identifying twins, because modern DNA technology cannot differentiate between identical twins. However, experts know their fingerprints will nevertheless be unique.
CRIME AND CRIMINALS TODAY
Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn concluded by saying that crime scenes nowadays have become more bloody and gory in nature, and the age of criminals is getting younger. Today people with criminal intent are greatly influenced by watching violent movies and playing computer games, he said.
A number of senseless crimes occur in Thai society because a person seems to have bonded with a character they have roleplayed or watched on screen repeatedly, be it in a movie or a game.
The fixation with these characters makes people behave like walking zombies. Afterwards they choose a modus operandi which closely resembles that of the character they have adopted to commit crimes.
The grisly murder of an old taxi driver at the hands of two teenagers a few years ago is a case in point. Aged 15 and 16, both were known to be avid fans of a computer game considered exceptionally violent. They picked a 60-year-old victim, who would put up little resistance, as their prey. Both teenagers stopped at a petrol pump, with the taxi meter running, to plan who would hold his arms and who would slash his neck with the kitchen knife they had brought in their bag. After murdering the defenceless man, they felt no remorse or sense of guilt when evidence at the crime scene lead police investigators to the two youngsters.
"Both teenagers played a violent computer game for hours each day that had numbed their emotions to the point that they felt taking a life was inconsequential. When I interviewed them, they had blank expressions on their faces," said Pol Lt Gen Jaramporn.
"In another case, a gunman confessed that he got the idea to add poison to the tip of his bullet from a movie he had watched. As a society, we have to be careful of the movies we entertain ourselves with, and the games our youngsters play. From my years of being in the police force, it is disturbing to watch youngsters kill just for kicks."