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Program Profile: Improving Forensic Responses to Residential Burglaries (Queensland)

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on January 10, 2018

Program Summary

This program aims to improve police officers’ forensic evidence-collection techniques at burglary crime scenes to increase solved burglaries. The program also intends to improve police–victim and police–witness interactions at burglary crime scenes. The program is rated Promising. Results showed a statistically significant increase in solved burglary cases.

Program Description

Program Goals
The goal of this enhanced police approach is to improve forensic burglary responses and police communication with burglary victims and witnesses, and to increase the rate of solved burglaries in Queensland, Australia. The program offers enhanced training on forensic evidence-collection practices (to improve forensic investigative skills of police), and on procedurally just techniques (such as treating people with respect and dignity, demonstrating trustworthy motives, being neutral and fair, and allowing people to voice their concerns) to increase the likelihood of victim and witness participation in burglary cases.
Australia has among the highest burglary rates in the world. However, there has been a decrease in burglary rates in the Brisbane Metropolitan area since 2001. Nonetheless, household burglaries remain a strong concern for Brisbane residents.
Program Components
The enhanced forensic response consists of two components. The first is increasing the technical response ability of officers through training, resources, and skill development in evidence collection. The second component is the use of procedural justice as a vehicle for engagement with victims.
During an investigation of a burglary, forensic officers collect forensic evidence to aid in the investigation. In the enhanced forensic-response model, officers can collect up to five DNA samples at each crime scene, compared with the standard two DNA samples. Officers also have access to the shoe print identification system). Officers receive crime scene evaluation and improved evidence-collection training, which include visual inspections using oblique lighting, the importance of recording quality information into the police database, additional training on DNA and fingerprint evidence collection, and training on enhancing police legitimacy. They also receive training on how to use a magnetic fingerprint brush, magnifying glass, and a new flashlight.
Additionally, officers receive training sessions and handouts that detail the importance of - and methods for dealing with - victims and witnesses in a procedurally just way. As part of this approach, officers are reminded and encouraged to demonstrate to residents that the police treat every complaint as important. Officers are required to attend every case for which they receive an assignment, have fewer time restrictions during the trial than usual, and are asked to spend as much time as necessary at each incident.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Identification from Forensics
Antrobus and Pilotto (2016) examined how many incidents were solved from the enhanced collection of forensic evidence at the 6-month follow-up period. The study authors found a statistically significant difference between groups in that treatment group officers were more likely than control group officers to get an identification based on collected forensic evidence. The treatment group made identifications in 21 percent of all incidents attended, whereas the control group made identifications in approximately 10 percent of all incidents attended. 
Solved Burglary Incidents
At the 6-month follow-up period, there was a statistically significant difference in the proportion of burglary incidents that we solved, with treatment group officers solving more cases than control group officers. The treatment group solved 25.8 percent of cases of all incidents attended, whereas the control group solved 18.5 percent of all incidents attended.
Victims Perceptions of Procedural Justice
The officers in the treatment group were perceived to be more procedurally just by victims compared with officers in the control group, a statistically significant difference. 
Victim Perceptions of Legitimacy
There were no observed differences in victims’ perceptions of legitimacy between the treatment group and control group.
Victim Overall Satisfaction
There were no observed differences in victims’ overall satisfaction between the treatment group and control group.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Antrobus and Pilotto (2016) conducted a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of procedural justice and an enhanced forensic approach on solved burglary cases in Queensland, Australia. For this study, burglary was defined as gaining access to a closed part of a building or other premise by use of force, with the intent to steal goods. All active forensic officers (n = 72) in the Brisbane Police Region, the capital of Queensland, participated in the study. The experimental group of officers (n = 36) received the improved forensic-response training. The control group of officers (n = 36) conducted business as usual; they were not required to attend every crime incident, they collected two samples of DNA per incident, and they did not have access to additional forensic resources such as the shoeprint identification system.
Across the 2-month intervention period, the experimental and control groups handled 872 residential burglary crime scenes. For each burglary incident reported to the police, a work ticket was produced and assigned to the next available officer. The treatment group of officers reported on 401 incidents. Following each incident that they attended, treatment officers were given a checklist to complete that would assess their use of the enhanced training on forensic examination and procedurally just practices. The control group of officers attended 471 incidents and were not provided a checklist. Victims attended to by either control group or treatment group officers were provided with a survey given by police administrators immediately after a forensic officer had come to their home. The survey asked about victims’ general perceptions of the police and crime in their area, as well as specific questions relating to their encounter with the officer.
Based on data from officer surveys and victim surveys, the researchers conducted a chi-square analysis of officer approaches to burglary incidents and victim satisfaction. Administrative data from police databases, six months after the trial period, were used in the analysis and included the amount of forensic intelligence gathered (including fingerprints collected and identified, DNA collected and identified, and other physical evidence collected), attendance rates at crime scenes, and solved burglary rates (i.e., whether a suspect had been arrested). No subgroup analyses were conducted. 
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There is no cost information available for this program.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Antrobus, Emma, and Andrew Pilotto. 2016. "Improving Forensic Responses to Residential Burglaries: Results of a Randomized Controlled Field Trial." Journal of Experimental Criminology 12(3): 319-45.

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Program Snapshot

Geography: Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Home

Program Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Victim Programs

Current Program Status: Active

Program Director:
Andrew Pilotto
Superintendent Integrity and Performance Group
Queensland Police
Phone: +61.7.33644055

Emma Antrobus
The University of Queensland
Brisbane St. Lucia, Queensland
Phone: +61.7.334.69306

Training and TA Provider:
Shane Scarinci
Senior Sergeant, Officer in Charge - Logan Scenes of Crime
Queensland Police
Logan Central Police Station
Brisbane, Queensland 4000
Phone: +61.7.38261959