Monday, August 5, 2013

Ibis a big step in the right direction

ON Oct 16, 2000, American television station CBS premiered a new cop drama starring a team of crime scene investigators working for the Las Vegas police department.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation soon grew into a mega hit, spawning two spin-offs featuring such investigators in Miami and New York, and paved the way for a number of similar shows on other television networks focusing on the procedures involved in solving crimes the "scientific" way.

In actual fact, such investigators in Las Vegas are called crime scene analysts and it is actually the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, but nobody cares. Also, solving crimes is not as easy as what it is made out to be in the television shows, but then again who wants to wait several episodes before you can find out whodunit?

Lord knows, if the CSI series were to follow the same time frame as the daytime soap operas, where you could miss several days worth of episodes and come back to find the characters in the same scene, the likes of Gil Grissom, Horatio Caine and Mac Taylor would never have become household names.

But the show has actually come in for criticism where the procedures are concerned. Some crimes, it seems, get solved within 24 hours and this has left, law enforcement experts say, an unrealistic expectation. For instance, the rapid analyses of fingerprints in the show. Just pick any such scene in CSI and within minutes, the computers they use will come up with a fingerprint match. Experts, however, say this process can take days and sometimes even weeks.

The same can also be said about ballistics analyses. The process seems so smooth and simple on the idiot box, yet is a long, drawn-out process, even with the aid of super-fast computers.

The fact remains that, even if you can match a bullet to a gun, and each gun and bullet used in a crime with a firearm used in a previous crime, this may never lead to solving a case, or both cases.
Now, it seems, the Royal Malaysia Police has entered the hi-tech fray at last, with the procurement of the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (Ibis). And, it was high time.

With Ibis, the police force will be able to analyse ballistics in a faster and more efficient manner. Matching firearms used in the commission of a crime can take as fast as 20 minutes. As we all have learned from Grissom and the gang, a gun leaves distinctive markings on bullets that leave its chamber as well as the casing itself. This is what Ibis looks at and matches to other bullets fired in previous crimes.

Whereas in the past, this was done manually by our boys in blue (or, perhaps, white lab coats), they now have the aid of a sophisticated computer, cutting down analysis time and, for sure, the possibility of mistakes.

With the spate of shootings which has occurred off late, this bit of news will most definitely be very welcome. Not least because of the public outcry that has ensued, nor the fact that no less than the prime minister himself has expressed concern.

One can't help but wonder, however, whether the so-called unrealistic expectations born of the CSI series will also be a factor here, now that we have such sophistication at our forensic policemen's fingertips.

You can, perhaps, expect more cases to be solved, and in a more efficient manner. But no one should expect that all cases will be solved, nor should anyone expect the crime rate to drop drastically, or the solving rate to increase exponentially.

Yes. It is a step in the right direction. A step which should have been taken a long time ago. But it is only a step. A big one, mayhap, but only a step nonetheless.

The government and the force have shown that they are trying to solve the problem of crime in the country. Apart from Ibis, more closed-circuit television cameras are being installed, more equipment such as patrol cars and motorcycles have been purchased and distributed to stations and a new department -- the Crime Prevention Department -- has been created. But, things should not stop there.

If there are other areas that need to be improved, if there are other bits of hardware or software which need to be purchased in order to bring the force up to speed in crime fighting, solving and prevention, then things need to get done.

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