The Centre of the study of Violence and Reconciliation was contacted by the South African government to carry out a study on the nature of crime in South Africa. The study concluded with results which shows the country is exposed to high levels of violence as a result of different factors. Violence has become a norm in our society, it has become a necessary and justified means of resolving conflict.

What are the origins of forensic investigation?

The history of forensic science is a fascinating field that has been developed over time.  The use of science to catch criminals is not only captivating, but also incredibly powerful. Forensic science is a very large field, with a long history of application, and even in more recent times, development of increasingly sensitive and specific analysis methods allow analysis of even the smallest traces of evidence.

Autopsy to determine cause of death

The first recorded autopsy was that of Julius Caesar in 44BC, and it was in the 15th century that the first forensics textbook was produced. In that textbook is one of the first uses of science to identify a murder weapon. A murder was committed and the trial judge ordered all the sickles in the village be confiscated.  Only one sickle attracted flies, leading the judge to conclude it was due to the scent of the blood, and this was the murder weapon.

In the 1540’s the French doctor Ambroise Paré laid the foundations for modern forensic pathology through his study of trauma on human organs.  The 19th century saw a forensic revolution.  With the advent of projectile weaponry ballistics forensics was soon developed. Eugène François Vidocq pioneered the first use of ballistics and began taking plaster casts of shoe imprints. In the 1830s the chemist James Marsh used standard scientific testing to determine that a man murdered his grandfather by arsenic poisoning, to this day it is known as the Marsh test.


The 1890s saw the first use of the Henry System for fingerprint classification, later Edmund Locard developed the 12 matching points for fingerprint comparison.  He also is responsible for one of the principle tenets of forensic science, that of “every contact leaves a trace”, this has formed the foundation of trace evidence collection and analysis for over a century and still plays a central role in 21st century forensic science. It is known as the Locard Exchange Principle

Blood Types

The first method for determining ABO blood groups for dried bloodstains was developed in 1910, which immediately became a useful tool for crime scene investigations.  We all know about the St Valentines Day Massacre. This is when Dr Calvin Goddard used comparison microscopy to compare shell casings from the scene of the crime which eventually led to a raid on Al ‘Scarface’ Capone’s home and the recovery of two of the weapons from the crime.


The late 1980s and 1990s saw the development of DNA profiling, and the establishment of DNA databases such as CODIS.  In addition to DNA evidence, the last 10 years has seen improvements in fingerprinting methods, portable crime labs, and increased use of chemical analysis for everything from explosive identification to analysis of dyes and inks.

Crime statistics in South Africa

South Africa is sadly renounced for its high crime rates. This can be said to be the result of flawed justice system acting inefficiently and corruptly, in combination with social inequality. Check out statistics below

1. Murder & attempted murder

Murder is the unlawful and intentional killing of another human being. In 2015/16, 18,673 murders were recorded, a 4.9% increase from 2014/15.

The murder rate increased from 32.9 in 2014/15 to 33.9 in 2015/16. This means there were nearly 34 murders recorded per 100,000 people in the country.

Between 2-15 – 2016, a murder was recorded on average 51.2 times a day.

Attempted murder

In 2015/16, 18,127 attempted murders were recorded. The most attempted murders were recorded in Gauteng (4,574).

The attempted murder rate increased from 32.4 in 2014/15 to 33 in 2015/16.

In 2015/16, an attempted murder was recorded on average 49.7 times a day.

2. Sexual offences

Sexual offences crime category contains the crimes detailed in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act. Crimes that fall under this broad category include rape, compelled rape, sexual assault, incest, bestiality, statutory rape and sexual grooming of children, among others.

As a result, when this crime category increases or decreases, it is unclear what crimes are driving the change?

In 2015/16, 51,895 sexual offences were recorded – an average of 142.2 per day. The sexual offences rate decreased from 99 in 2014/15 to 94.3 in 2015/16.

This decrease is not a positive sign, according to the Institute for Security Studies: “We are deeply concerned about the decrease of 3.2% in sexual offences. Research shows that this crime is underreported and a decrease suggests that fewer people are reporting sexual offences.”


South Africa’s legal definition of rape is very broad. The act states that “any person (‘A’) who unlawfully and intentionally commits an act of sexual penetration with a complainant (‘B’), without the consent of B, is guilty of the offence of rape”.

This includes “the oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person with a genital organ, anal or vaginal penetration with any object and the penetration of a person’s mouth with the genital organs of an animal.”

Statistics provide to Africa Check by the South African Police Service reveal that 42,596 rapes were reported in 2015/16.

3. Assault

Common assault is the “unlawful and intentional direct and indirect application of force to the body of another person” or “threat of application of immediate personal violence to another”.

In 2015/16, 164,958 common assaults were recorded. The assault rate increased from 298.2 in 2014/15 to 299.9 in 2015/16 – meaning nearly 300 common assaults were recorded per 100,000 people in the country.

On average, 451.9 people were victims of common assault every day in South Africa up until recently.

The Institute for Security Studies cautions that these statistics may not reflect reality: “Police statistics for assault are notoriously unreliable because most victims don’t report these crimes to the police. Sometimes, if not often, the victim and perpetrator may be related (such as in a case of domestic violence) making the victims more reluctant to disclose assault.”

Statistics South Africa’s 2014/15 Victim of Crime Survey reported that most assault victims knew their perpetrator. A shocking 30% of victims reported that the person who assaulted them was either their lover or spouse.

Assault with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm

Assault GBHIn 2015/16, 182,933 assaults with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm were recorded. In 2015/16, an assault of this kind was recorded on average 501.2 times a day.

4. Robbery

Common robbery

A robbery is committed when a person unlawfully and intentionally forcefully removes and appropriates property belonging to another person.

In 2015/16, 54,110 robberies were recorded, down by 1.5% from the year before.

The robbery rate decreased from 101.4 in 2014/15 to 98.4 in 2015/16. This means that 98.4 robberies were recorded per 100,000 people in the country.

On average 148.2 common robberies were recorded each day.

Robbery with aggravating circumstances

Robbery with aggravating circumstances occurs when a person uses a gun or weapon to take property belonging to another person.

On average 363.1 robberies with aggravating circumstances were recorded each day.

House robbery

House robberies occur when perpetrators break into a person’s home to commit theft.

In 2015/16, there were 20,819 incidents of house robbery recorded, a 2.7% increase from the previous year. The house robbery rate increased marginally from 37.5 in 2014/15 to 37.8 in 2015/16.

In 2015/16, on average 57 houses were robbed each day.

What is the process involved in solving a crime?

When a crime occurs there is a precise and definite process involved in solving it. Let us examine this process.

1. Approach the Scene

The crime scene investigator returns the microphone to its clip and begins the drive to the latest assignment. A crime scene investigation begins well before the CSI enters a structure, an open field or wooded area. Usually the radio dispatch message is brief and seldom reveals the full nature of the incident. Most often this is done to avoid drawing on-lookers and the media who may be monitoring the dispatch frequency. As the CSI turns onto the street in question, his first obligation is to “turn on” his powers of observation. He may make a mental note of what he sees, hears and smells or better still, records them on a digital voice recorder. His first reaction to the scene must be, “Does anything look out of place? What odors may be noticeable and are there unusual sounds.

2. Secure and Protect the Scene

Hopefully the first responders haven’t caused too much disruption to any potential physical evidence. Before even stepping inside the structure, ingress and egress to it must be controlled. Sentries at all possible entrances should be put in place. The CSI, after learning the basic facts-in this case it appears that a white male appears to have a single bullet wound the head and rigor has set in– this from the first responders, so the CSI will establish the boundaries of the crime scene. Then… out comes the crime scene tape.

3. Initiate Preliminary Survey

Again… before entering the structure an exterior survey is needed. This may be nothing more that walking around the exterior of the structure to see if any obvious evidence is apparent. This would include open windows, damaged doors, ladders and the like. The question the CSI is asking is… how was entry made to the structure? Once indoors, the CSI will make a visual survey of the actual room in which the incident reported took place. This is a good time to also take overall photos of the scene. He will then survey adjoining rooms to determine if these spaces may have information relative to the incident. Most law enforcement agencies conduct such investigations of an unattended death (no physician present) as a possible homicide-until it is determined otherwise. Unlike some TV dramas, the CSI is on site for the purpose of finding, evaluating and collecting physical evidence. In most agencies, statements from witnesses and survivors are handled by the investigators/detectives.

Of course, during this entire survey period, the CSI is taking notes and/or recordings of his sensory observations.

4. Evaluate Physical Evidence Possibilities

The very nature of what appears to be obvious should trigger the thought-processes of the CSI. What happened here, when did it happen and what sort of evidence should be present? Questions that should be answered initially are:

  • Did the shooting occur in this room
  • Has the body been moved (by first responders or perpetrator(s)
  • Has any object been moved (especially by first responders or family members
  • Were additional shots besides the one in the victim’s head. This means examining walls, ceiling, room objects, etc.
  • Are shell casings apparent. If so-mark them with placards, evidence tents, etc. so they will be obvious in photos.
  • Are traces of blood apparent in other areas of the room-indicating movement of the victim
  • Is blood spatter apparent
  • Are there signs of a struggle
  • Are there visible footprints in the blood

Each crime scene may well generate other questions to be answered by the CSI. The above list is simply the most obvious questions.

5. Prepare a Narrative of the Scene

The CSI’s notes can serve as a very critical part of the overall physical evidence available from the scene. The investigator must keep in mind that months or even years later this case may go to trial. Your notes must present the full story of what you saw and any impressions the evidence gave you. Avoid speculation as to what occurred unless you have physical evidence to back it up.

6. Capture the Scene Photographically

Be certain to have overall, medium range and close-up shots of any potential physical evidence. Be certain to include scales in the close-up shots.

7. Prepare the Crime Scene Sketch

Many CSIs will prepare the rough sketch at the scene and will complete a detailed sketch back at headquarters. The rough sketch should contain no more or no less than the final, detailed sketch. It is always recommended that an assistant help out when taking measurements, and it’s a good idea is to have this individual verify each measurement to avoid questions later.

8. Conduct a Detailed Search

Go over every square inch of the scene in an attempt to locate even the smallest particle of evidence. (This brings to mind a recent case wherein a woman was brutally beaten to death in her bedroom. Several days after the crime scene was released to the family, the victim’s sister found a tooth from the victim on the bedroom carpet). Many crime scenes warrant the use of an evidence vacuum in the scene to collect any potential microparticle evidence such as hair and fibers. This step should be performed prior to any close in inspection of the victim.

9. Record and Collect Physical Evidence

As potential evidence is located it should be recorded on the crime scene sketch as well as in photographs. If your agency offers the luxury of having a videographer on hand, video often tells a compelling story to a jury.

Crime scene evidence is useless unless it is properly marked and packaged and a Chain of Evidence is begun from the time it is picked up. Use the proper type of containers for all evidence collected. Never package objects wet with blood or other physiological fluids in plastic bags, as this will accelerate decomposition. Label and identify all evidence collected, including the notes taken by the investigator.

Of course, the digital age we live in takes note of electronic devices like computers and cellphones. This type of evidence requires special handling and only experts trained in working with digital items should be permitted to handle and collect these items.

10. Conduct a Final Survey

Be certain that every package containing physical evidence is collected—leave nothing behind. Make a final walk-through to be certain that all potential evidence is bagged and tagged.

11. Release the Crime Scene

While it is normal for others having an interest in the property to want to regain access, the CSI should not be rushed, coaxed or bullied into releasing the scene until the job is done.

Where does the Forensics Investigator fit in?

A Forensic Crime Scene Investigator collects evidence at a scene to try and work out who committed the crime. Forensic Crime Scene Investigators have different duties according to where they are working. This type of forensic investigation entails collecting evidence, protecting evidence and capturing visual data at the crime scene. When they are not at the crime scene they work in a laboratory to analyse the evidence that has been collected. They aim to reconstruct the events that took place when the crime was committed. It is essential that forensic investigators are aware of the procedures that they need to follow so that their findings can be admitted into court. Forensic Crime Scene Investigators may be asked to appear in court to give evidence. It is possible to specialise in different areas of investigator work such as firearms or trace evidence.

Where to study forensic and investigative studies

Investigative and forensic studies is the leading way to advance in forensic settings around the world. Dedicated to innovation, simplicity, and customer service, our team of experts develops services and programming to promote evidence-based best practices and improve both compliance and outcomes in assessment, treatment, and monitoring. Learn skills that you can use in your career in the police force, as well as in private business as a corporate investigator. Skills academy is a fantastic home study based institution that allows you to study the below courses from the comfort of your own home.

Investigation Certificate Programmes

Forensic Science Certificate Programmes

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Forensic Science Short Course Programmes

So if you are interested in the interesting world of forensics and crime fighting contact them today on 0800 39 00 27 to sign up for a course.

Last updated: November 21st 2016