NFI annual report: plenty of dynamism and developments

A 67% reduction in the average turnaround times, a backlog completely made good, the introduction of very rapid sprint products and a significant increase in client satisfaction as a result. These are just a few of the results which the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) is presenting today in its 2009 annual report in which the NFI offers insights into the world of the NFI in an entirely new manner, based on an online crime scene.

In 2009, the NFI investigated a total of 46,199 cases. This represents a five-fold increase compared to 10 years ago. The largest increase was related to DNA research and digital research. The supply of work – that is, the cases being dealt with at any one time – dropped during a two year period by 84% due to more efficient operations, and better agreements with the police and the Public Prosecution Service with regard to capacity.

Achieving these results has enabled the NFI to conclude a period of 'clearing up and reorganising'. The emphasis during that period was on improving the provision of services and the internal production processes, as well as on making relationships with clients, such as the police and the Public Prosecution Service, more businesslike. This has resulted in, among other things, clear agreements about the products and services to be provided.

Intensification of innovation

The above-mentioned development has led to space being created for an intensification of research & development and innovation. As Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi, Managing Director of the NFI, explains, “The speed of technological developments is already rapid and is set to increase even further as a result of specific investments. More and more investigations will become possible, using more and more different types of traces. The same applies to DNA research and digital traces, as well as to chemical, physical and medical research. In the future, the NFI will be able to perform investigations, such as DNA research, extremely quickly at the crime scene itself. It will be possible to determine from which type of cell material the DNA has come from, what external features the person in question has, and possibly even when the DNA was left behind.”

“We will be able to record the totality of traces as a three-dimensional digital image, in order to enable detailed reconstructions at a later date, long after the crime scene has been completely cleared. We will be able to create chemical fingerprints of all kinds of materials which are relevant to the administration of justice. It will then be possible to compare these with databases, for example to establish their origin. It will even still be possible to read digital traces on damaged chips using ultramodern dual beam electron microscopes. These and other developments will have an ever-increasing impact on detecting and prosecuting perpetrators and on eliminating innocent parties from investigations.”

In 2009 the NFI started developing innovative investigation options. Three developments stand out. First and foremost there are investigations designed to objectivise expert opinions and to provide a more robust scientific basis. These can help reduce the amount of discussion between experts in court. Secondly there is the development of ultramodern technology to make traces at the crime scene visible and to record them, even if they are not visible to the naked eye. Thirdly there are new techniques and processes which can further increase the speed with which forensic reports are delivered.

Acceleration: the ‘sprint portfolio’

The police, in particular, need very quick results during the investigation phase in order to steer the investigation in the right direction. For that reason, the NFI developed what is referred to as a 'sprint portfolio' in 2009. This is a portfolio of products with very short delivery times. These correspond as much as possible to the periods of time criminals are remanded in custody. In the near future the NFI will even be able to deliver DNA research findings within a couple of hours.

Forensic awareness

As already mentioned, the options as regards forensic research are rapidly increasing, and the field is becoming more and more complex from the technological, scientific and process perspectives. The usability and effectiveness of forensic research depends not only on the quality of the research but also on its use by clients (the police, the Public Prosecution Service, the courts and lawyers). The aim of the NFI Academy, which was set up on 1 January 2010, is to provide training to national and international clients so that they can use forensic research correctly, effectively and efficiently.

Cooperation and the joining of forces

In 2009 the NFI sought additional cooperation with knowledge institutes and companies. At CSI The Hague, cooperation is taking place with the business and scientific communities on digitising and virtualising crime scenes. Among others, Philips, Thales, the TU Delft and TNO were involved in the cooperation. In the field of DNA, the NFI is funding research at the Erasmus MC hospital. Researchers have developed a method for accurately predicting people's eye colour on the basis of DNA.

Next week the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) is taking place in Amsterdam. This is the most important IT conference in the world, which brings together politicians, ICT companies, CEOs and elite managers from companies and government every two years. The issue of safety and IT, on a substantive level, will be led by the NFI in collaboration with companies like Microsoft, Cap Gemini, ABN Amro and Siemens.