The European approach
Research projects are the building blocks of a larger strategic policy geared towards the fight against fraud and crime. The EU sees the financial support it provides to projects in the field of forensic science as an investment in the quality of life of all its citizens. A special effort is being devoted to harmonising the technical procedures and standards between national forensic institutions within the Union and abroad.
The following are examples of work highlighting how progress in forensic science improves Europe’s ability to detect and prosecute various types of crime.
DNA profiling Today, DNA profiling is a standard procedure in criminal investigations. Scientists are able to extract what is, in effect, a biological identity card from the smallest samples of material, such as hair or blood. Over the years, laboratories across Europe have developed different, often incompatible, techniques for forensic DNA profiling. The EU-supported project ‘Stadnap’ (Standardisation of DNA profiling techniques in the EU) is tackling this problem head on.
Fearid – Forensic ear identification Law enforcement authorities can already identify criminals using body trace recognition techniques such as DNA profiling. But the reliability of the data – and the cost of collecting it – varies from one country to another. Taking information from the ear, a so-called ‘ear print’, is an attractive alternative because it is cheaper than DNA proof and more dependable as evidence in court because it cannot be tampered with or accidentally introduced to the crime scene.
A consortium of researchers from universities, forensic labs and national police training centres received EU support to adapt existing technologies and find new methods for using ear print trace evidence. Fearid is also an important step towards harmonising standards for collecting and interpreting ear print information, including providing databases and appropriate new support tools for individual ear data recognition.
ETA – Explosive trace analysis Bomb blasts, whether criminal or terrorist in origin, leave a trail of evidence. Investigators can sweep the area surrounding the blast for traces of unreacted explosive. Even the smallest of traces, a nanogram, for example, can be recovered, isolated and identified by modern chemical techniques. Once identified, the explosive can be compared with traces discovered in a suspect’s possession then used as evidence at trial.
The Union has actively supported workshops and discussions on explosive trace analysis methods, informing possible research areas to be addressed within its programmes for research.