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Periods of detention and forensic investigations. Proposal for a quicker forensic process (2016:2)

The Government has commissioned Statskontoret to investigate whether the handling of forensic investigations can be changed with the purpose of making periods of detention shorter, and if so, how.

Forensic activities at NFC in focus

Forensic investigations are conducted by several authorities, including the Police Authority – which encompasses the National Forensic Centre (NFC) – , the National Board of Forensic Medicine and Swedish Customs. Our assessment is that it is the forensic activities at NFC which have the greatest impact on the length of the periods of det­ent­ion.

Forensic investigations can affect the period of detention

Statskontoret's survey reveals that forensic investigations are lau­nch­ed in 40 per cent of the cases involving detention. The hand­ling of forensic investigations can therefore affect the period of detention in many but far from all cases. 

We have followed up on reports of extended prosecution proceedings and seen that the period of de­ten­tion is often extended on the grounds of forensic inv­esti­gations. This applies to 37 per cent of the reports investigated. The exact connection between the length of the period of detention and the proces­sing tim­es for forensic investigations, on the other hand, cannot be established based on the available data.

In order to shorten the periods of detention, it is in the first instance relevant to inc­rease the effi­cien­cy of the handling of forensic investigations in the types of cases where the periods of det­ention are longest and the proportion in detention is largest. These are violent crimes, sexual offences, theft, drug offences and fraud.  

Orders placed with NFC are a critical stage of the process

Forensic investigations are conducted as part of a process in which police and prose­cutors are clients and NFC is the provider. The order is one of two criti­cal stages of the process that have the largest impact on the length of the period of deten­tion. The other is the internal processes within NFC when anal­ys­es are to be carried out.

Statskontoret's investigation reveals that there are two conditions in the order stage which delay NFC's handling of the case. One is that many orders are incomplete. This means that NFC emp­loy­ees need to make contact with the client in order to obtain additional information, which delays handling.

The second delaying factor is that not all orders placed with NFC are relevant. Consequently, NFC performs analyses that are not actually necessary to the investigation of the crime and NFC's resources are therefore not optimised. This is partly due to a lack of forensic expertise among the clients in terms of what needs to be investigated. Furthermore, police and prosecutors omit to cancel orders which have later been deemed unnecess­ary.

Statskontoret's proposal for complete and relevant orders

Statskontoret proposes the following:

  • The prosecutors should be more active when ordering forensic investi­gations. The purpose is to increase the proportion of relevant orders placed with NFC. We propose that the Swedish Prosecution Authority maintain an increased focus on foren­sic investigations and that the case management system be developed so as to facilitate the prosecutors' work.
  • Support to the client shall be improved in order to increase the proportion of complete and correct orders. We propose that the order forms be reviewed and improved and that the Police Authority introduce a forensic supp­ort function.

More effective work processes within NFC can help to shorten periods of detention

Statskontoret's conclusion is that NFC needs effective case processes in order for the forensic process to function optimally. Our investigation reveals that there are several factors which affect the handling times for cas­es involving detainees. The first is how priority cases are handled within NFC. Orders linked to crime investigations in which a person is detained should be handled with priority, but Statskontoret's investigation shows that the guidelines for how priority cases are to be given higher priority are unclear. Furthermore, NFC does not have sufficient information on the deadlines which apply when a detai­nee is involved in a criminal investigation.

Ineffective work processes is the single biggest factor in length­ening the handling of forensic investigations. For certain types of cases, including drugs analyses, changes in approach have produced very good results. The same time of development work in other case ty­pes could help to considerably reduce handling times and even detention. Our assessment is that NFC should in the first instance increase the efficiency of its work with bio-trace investigations (investigation and anal­ysis of DNA traces) as it is the most common order made in crime inves­tig­ations with detainees in the violent, sexual and theft ca­teg­ories of crime. 

The handling times for weapon analysis have received criticism, one example being in a decision by the Parliamentary Ombudsmen (JO). Despite initiatives from NFC, the problem remains, with many weapons cases open and long handling times.

Statskontoret's proposal for more effective internal processes

Statskontoret proposes the following:

  • NFC should improve its work on developing the processes for case hand­ling, and especially the flows for priority cases. In the first hand, biotrace investigations should be prioritised. In the development work, NFC should keep a dialogue with the clients in order to take their needs into consideration.
  • NFC should employ one-time initiatives to take care of the ba­la­nce of weapon analysis cases which have piled up.