The Victoria Police Forensic Services Department is one of the largest providers of forensic science services in Australia.
An example dictionary definition of the word 'forensic' is: 'pertaining to, connected with, or used in courts of law or public discussion and debate.'
However, forensic science is much broader than this definition. It also includes assisting investigations through the use of DNA, fingerprints or other evidence, and crime-scene and exhibit examinations as well as assistance to the courts with expert evidence.
Forensic science may be used to exclude suspects.
Forensic staff attend and examine many serious crime scenes including homicides, suspicious fires, clandestine drug laboratories, cannabis crops and recovery of bodies after a disaster.
Forensic Services examines more than 55,000 exhibits each year. Exhibits are collected from scenes and from persons, including suspects, complainants, deceased and convicted persons.
Assistance to the courts
Forensic staff provide assistance to the courts and the justice process. A court may accept a written report or the forensic experts may be required to present their evidence in court. The aim of forensics evidence is to provide impartial evidence to assist the court to understand what occurred. It is up to the jury to decide if the evidence is understandable, reliable and how much weight the evidence has.
Areas of forensic science
Forensic science services provided by the Forensic Services Department
Audio visual: extraction, recovery, repair, enhancement and analysis of audio and video recordings including CCTV and images
Ballistics: examination of crime scenes involving firearms; firearms, ammunition and component examination and comparison; firearms identification safety and function, striated toolmark comparison
Biological sciences: For major crime – detection and identification of biological material such as blood, semen and hair; bloodstain pattern analysis on exhibits and at scenes
For property crime – detection and identification of biological material such as blood, semen and hair
For all biological cases – DNA profiling of samples and comparison of profiles from victims, suspects, convicted offenders, scenes and comparisons to the National DNA database
Botany: botanical identification of plant material including cannabis and opium poppies; yield estimates of cannabis crops for usable material; examination of trace botanical material from crimes; identification of poisonous/psychoactive plants
Chemical, biological and radiological/disaster victim identification: processing crime scenes of a chemical, biological or radiological incident; locating, photographing, recording and collecting human remains at scenes with a number of deceased with questioned identity
Chemical trace: identification and/or comparison of materials such as glass, paint, plastics, fibres, and chemical irritants (eg pepper spray)
Clandestine laboratories: analysis and interpretation of chemicals and equipment from illegal drug laboratories
Criminal identification: preparation of facial composites based on witness descriptions; cranio-facial reconstructions; assistance with preparation of interactive graphic presentations of evidence
DNA management: management of DNA samples throughout Victoria; sharing DNA information nationally and internationally; notification to investigators of DNA links to unsolved crimes; co-ordination of ante-mortem collection from relatives of long-term missing persons
Document examination: handwriting and signature comparisons; examination of machine generated documents; examination of documents for alterations, obliterations and indentations
Drug analysis: identification of drugs and poisons; determining the quantity of drugs; reporting of chemical drugs intelligence data
Fire and explosion investigation: investigation of fires and explosions through scene examinations and laboratory analysis of exhibits to determine cause
Major crime scene: at major crime scenes, scene searching, collection of exhibits and recording scenes using photography and video; recording, enhancement and comparison of shoe, tyre and tool impressions
Microscopy: sampling persons, scenes and items for gunshot residue and subsequent analysis
Photographic processing: production of prints for court for Victoria Police
Vehicle examination: examination of suspect vehicles and other items to establish original identity
Office of the Chief Forensic Scientist: management of the research, development and innovation (RD&I) and education and training strategies of the Forensic Services Department
The role of the Fingerprint Services Group is to maintain a database of fingerprints taken from offenders, firearms licence applicants, gaming commission applicants and other people as required.
Staff identify offenders who have been fingerprinted previously, unknown deceased persons, and accident victims, including those involved in major disasters.
The Fingerprint Services Group also assists in the investigation of crimes by making examinations of crime scenes for latent fingerprints – a fingerprint that is not visible to the naked eye – as well as studying and identifying latent fingerprints recovered from crime scenes.
By the 1900s the use of fingerprints as a means of identifying people in Victoria had gradually gained acceptance as a result of numerous studies done by scientists, botanists, biologists, anatomists and police.
The Victoria Police Fingerprint Services Group was established in 1903. In 1994, the group was integrated with the State Forensic Science Laboratory to form the Victoria Forensic Science Centre.
The work carried out by the Fingerprint Services Group falls into two distinct categories: office-based duties and crime-scene duties.
The Fingerprint Services Group receives about 60,000 sets of fingerprints each year which are added to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (NAFIS). The fingerprints of any person charged with a crime throughout Australia are added to this system.
All '10 Finger' fingerprint forms (an inked set of all 10 fingerprints) received by the Fingerprint Services Group are checked by name to establish whether a fingerprint form bearing the same name is already in the records. If there is already an existing form, the two forms are compared to make sure that the fingerprints belong to the same person. If the fingerprints on the form are not 'known by name', they are compared against others in the computer database to see if they are recorded under another name.
The Fingerprint Services Group also receives fingerprint sets in an electronic format called 'Livescan' which are also processed and added to NAFIS.
Fingerprints recovered from crime scenes are processed and compared against fingerprints in the NAFIS database to identify offenders.
Details of all fingerprint forms must also be recorded to satisfy legal requirements, and to make sure the process of destroying fingerprints is done correctly, in accordance with the Crime Amendments Act 1993. Fingerprints must be destroyed if a person is not charged within six months of being interviewed and having fingerprints taken or if a person is charged and then found not guilty.
The Fingerprint Services Group has a laboratory where advanced fingerprint development techniques are used for exhibits that cannot be comprehensively examined at a crime scene.
Members of the Fingerprint Services Group attend a wide range of crime scenes to conduct examinations for fingerprints. These examinations are made using various fingerprinting techniques which range from the use of powders to more advanced chemical methods.
More than 3,000 crime scenes are processed every year. Members of the group are required to attend hospitals and mortuaries to fingerprint victims of crime, and to present evidence in court.
Each year the Forensic Services Department receives a number of requests for speakers. Unfortunately only a limited number of these are able to be met.
If you would like to send a request, we require the following details from you via email:
- approximate number in group
- preferred dates, times
- contact name
- contact phone number
If your request is successful you should be contacted soon after making the request.
It is not possible for community, school groups or individuals to visit the high-security Forensic Services Department facilities.
ANZPAA National Institute of Forensic Science
The ANZPAA National Institute of Forensic Science advises and assists with the development and coordination of forensic science services in Australia.
Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine
The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM) is part of the Coronial Services Centre in South Melbourne. One function of the VIFM is to determine the medical cause of death, and it employs medical staff, toxicologists and biologists with this aim in mind. Autopsies are performed by doctors who have specialised in pathology, and the scientists analyse samples taken from the body. VIFM also performs civil paternity testing for the courts and has medical practitioners who specialise in clinical forensic medicine.
Disaster Victim Identification
Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) is the method used to identify victims of mass-casualty incidents. This resource has been produced and endorsed by the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency Disaster Victim Identification Committee (ADVIC). It is a guide to families of victims explaining the process of identifying victims of disasters and other mass-fatality incidents. There may be some minor differences between jurisdictions.
Simplified guide to forensic science
This guide has been created by the National Forensic Science Technology Centre (USA).
The Forensic Services Department has some dedicated email addresses:
- student and career enquiries, requests for forensic speakers for schools and community groups
- compliments and complaints
- general enquiries
Forensic Services Department
31 Forensic Drive
Macleod, Victoria 3085
Phone: (03) 9450 3444
Fax: (03) 9459 9769
Reviewed 13 March 2019