Forensics fills gaps in police investigations

Photo by Trisha Kundu

Acting Det. Drew Groves at Durham Regional Police Services' Investigation Unit

Gordon Jenish, president of Jenish Forensic Engineering in Oshawa, has investigated many cases. He recalls one story from early 2000s when he was contacted by the police to investigate a car accident.

The accident involved a husband and a wife whose car swerved off the road and fell into shallow waters, killing the wife.

There were no witnesses and the “driver’s story seemed credible…someone cut him off,” said Jenish. However, he said a deeper investigation revealed it was likely a first-degree murder.

He said police initially treated the case as an accident and they missed some evidence, such as tire marks. They were gone due to workers walking on the grass, according to Jenish.

He said the police later discovered the husband’s motive for the murder and he was convicted, in part due to Jenish’s work. He said that happens sometimes.

“But if there are shortcomings in a police investigation we may be able to uncover that,” said Jenish.

William Jennings, a forensic engineer at the same firm, describes the difference. He said police are “accident re-constructionists” while his company works mainly with forensics.

Forensic investigators collect evidence or reconstruct scenes using computer simulation techniques, physical laboratory evidence, and their inferences are based on science.

They use 3D-scanners and UAV laser scanners, a machine that collects data using drones, to identify blood patterns which might have been wiped off of a crime scene.

One of the main challenges with forensics is that each side hires an expert who interprets the evidence in different ways, making it sometimes an “adversarial” business, according to Jennings.

Forensic investigation is an “interpretation-based business,” said Jennings, with police having a certain expertise because they are the first to arrive on scene.

He said private investigators often face the challenge of lack of circumstantial evidence because they might be contacted to investigate a case which has been going on years.

On the police side, there are other challenges too.

Changing technology, extended working hours, and mental and physical demands of the work itself are some of the challenges faced by forensic investigators, said Acting Det. Drew Groves of Durham Regional Police Services.

He said the police sometimes deal with infant deaths, which makes them question, “Could that be your child?”

“Keeping everyone’s mental health here good is one of our main challenges. But we take care of ourselves very well,” said Groves.

Some of the things they see are so graphic, it might affect them, he said. “I think if you do this job and nothing affects you then I think there’s some serious issues that need to be addressed.”

He said the duration of an investigation depends on the complexity of the case itself. For example, a recent discovery of human remains in Oshawa took months of investigation.

Sometimes investigations can take years to solve because of the “meticulous, methodical and tedious work,” he said. People have tried to clean up scenes and hide the crimes they’ve committed, according to Groves.

The Forensic Identification Unit of Durham Police works with the homicide unit to solve a case with the former collecting the evidence and the latter investigating the cases, said Groves.

Forensic investigators, private and the police, say they have a duty to the public, before anyone else, to convey the truth.

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Trisha Kundu is a first-year journalism student at Durham college, Oshawa. She enjoys writing stories about crimes and art. She aspires to become a reporter after college.