On Assignment
HTX-Factor: Recover, Analyse, Empower
Venture into the multifaceted world of forensic analysis and find out how HTX officers are taking the lead in using S&T to support our crimefighting efforts.

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GRAPHIC: Home Team News

The adoption of state-of-the-art Science and Technology (S&T) in forensics is helping Home Team officers track, identify and solve crime more efficiently. Three officers from the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) take us through the finer points of forensics applications in their work. 

SANDY TAN, Senior Crime Scene Specialist, Forensics Centre of Expertise, HTX
As a Crime Scene Specialist, Sandy Tan leverages his knowledge of forensic science to support Police investigations by assessing, recovering and preserving vital evidence at crime scenes. 

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On the scene: Senior Crime Scene Specialist Sandy Tan. PHOTO: Vivian Moh

Take us through a day of work for you.
My team and I will report to a crime scene after we’ve been activated by Investigation Officers (IOs) from the Singapore Police Force (SPF). Due to the complex and dynamic nature of crime scenes, we need to process the scene in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, to optimise the identification and recovery of forensic evidence. Such evidence is essential in supporting the IOs’ investigations. 

When I’m not responding to cases, I conduct research in the field of Traffic Accident Reconstruction, in order to develop our specialised capabilities in this area.

Why has the team embraced new technologies to process crime scenes?
Crime scene documentation is vital as it allows the IOs, prosecutors and judges to thoroughly assess the layout of a crime scene. Often, there’s only one opportunity for us to document the crime scene in its unaltered condition, so our processes need to be very thorough and detailed, to capitalise on this narrow window.

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Ground advantage: Sandy operating a 3D Laser Scanner onsite. PHOTO: Vivian Moh

3D Laser Scanners have revolutionised the documentation of complex crime scenes. Unlike conventional photographs and sketch plans, 3D scans provide a more accurate and realistic snapshot of a scene, one that IOs can “revisit” virtually during their investigations. Accurate measurements can also be easily extracted from 3D scans, if required.

The 3D Laser Scanner requires a certain level of technical knowledge and expertise to operate. It’s critical that we’re properly trained in its operational capabilities so that we can comprehensively capture areas of interest at a crime scene. 

What are your key considerations in harnessing S&T to assess, recover and preserve evidence? 
Using the 3D Laser Scanner and other forensic tools, we can document and retrieve evidence at crime scenes more efficiently so that IOs can identify and apprehend suspects more quickly. 

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A 3D Laser Scanner and the scanned image of the crime scene. PHOTOS: Vivian Moh

With S&T, we can also deploy our forensic resources in a more targeted and effective manner. For example, by using a confirmatory kit to make a preliminary determination of the forensic value of the evidence that we’ve recovered, we can cut down on redundancies in processing and collection. 

Finally, in harnessing S&T for our work, we must also ensure that our processes are robust and satisfy both scientific standard and legal requirements in Court. 

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Processing a crime scene. PHOTOS: Vivian Moh, HTX
What do you look forward to most in your work as a Senior Crime Scene Specialist?
As Forensics is a multidisciplinary field, I’m given many opportunities to learn and appreciate how different scientific disciplines can be applied to generate investigative leads. This is something I look forward to as I can constantly improve myself and stay up-to-date with the latest forensic capabilities.

For example, we’re now conducting research on a proprietary nanopowder that can detect latent fingerprints which can then be further analysed to provide additional information on suspects.

It’s also very fulfilling to know that my work brings closure to victims of crime and their families, and helps ensure that justice is served. This is something that motivates me every day!

NICHOLAS TAN, Forensic Scientist (Research), Forensics Centre of Expertise, HTX
Certain types of evidence that have been collected at a crime scene will be brought back to the laboratory for further analysis. That’s where Nicholas Tan comes in – as a Forensic Scientist, he analyses evidence for genetic clues that can yield vital investigative leads. 

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Forensic Scientist (Research) Nicholas Tan. PHOTO: Soo Jun Xiang

Tell us about your work as a Forensic Scientist. 
At our laboratory, we use sophisticated tools like the Genetic Analyser to identify persons of interest and other forensic analysis applications. It’s extremely important that the S&T instruments are reliable as our analysis will support Police investigations. That’s why it’s essential that we provide results that are accurate and consistent. 

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A Genetic Analyser is a vital tool in identifying persons of interest and other forensic analysis applications. PHOTOS: Vivian Moh

How does a Genetic Analyser work? 
Readings from an Analyser look like a graph with multiple peaks that represent versions of a human gene that have been recovered from a crime scene. By examining these peaks, we can determine unique identifying features of individuals. As the Analyser is a highly sensitive instrument, we need to conduct extensive validation to establish accurate and consistent results. This takes experience and training. 

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Lab expertise: Nicholas Tan at HTX’s Home Team Investigation Laboratory at Police Cantonment Complex. PHOTO: HTX

What do you love about your work as a Forensic Scientist?
I joined the Home Team in 2019. Besides supporting Police investigations, I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to projects such as our DNA phenotyping Lab-On-Chip system, which was showcased during HTX’s launch in December 2019. 

One important part of our evolution has been to collaborate with private entities, academic partners and global counterparts. This brings different perspectives, knowledge and resources to the table, which will help us to progress. Ultimately, I feel excited about being able to develop new forensic technologies, and having a sense of ownership for what we do.

LAU RUI FENG, Senior Forensic Examiner, Digital & Information Forensics Centre of Expertise, HTX
An engineer by vocation, Lau Rui Feng is currently forward-deployed at the Technology Crime Forensic Branch of SPF’s Criminal Investigation Department, where he helped develop the Digital Forensics Kiosk. 

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Senior Forensic Examiner Lau Rui Feng. PHOTO: Soo Jun Xiang

Take us through a typical day at work for you. 
There isn’t exactly a “typical” day for me. I may be conducting digital forensics, supporting Police operations, doing research on new forensic tools or working on the Digital Forensics Kiosk project.

What does digital forensics involve? 
Given the proliferation of digital devices, there’s a growing demand for us to recover and analyse data from smartphones, laptops and so on, for investigative purposes. That’s why we’ve increased our digital forensics support by developing user-friendly tools like the Digital Forensics Kiosk. 

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Empowering our frontline officers: The Digital Forensics Kiosk in use. PHOTOS: Vivian Moh

The Kiosk is a self-service platform that can extract data from smartphones, storage media and other devices. This empowers frontline officers by allowing them to conduct evidence reviews on their own, and to generate leads faster.

In designing the Digital Forensic Kiosk, ease-of-use was a key consideration, as the Kiosk is designed specifically for non-technical users such as frontline Police officers. Based on their feedback, we made adjustments to improve the user experience. 

What drives you and your team to explore new S&T solutions like the Digital Forensics Kiosk?
One challenge that we face is the volume of data that needs to be managed on a day-to-day basis. Exploring new S&T tools is definitely the way to go, as solutions such as automation help us to leverage technology and reduce repetitive manual tasks.

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Rui Feng is keen to apply new S&T tools to support officers on the ground. PHOTO: Vivian Moh
What are you most proud of in your work as a Senior Forensic Examiner?
I joined the Home Team in 2016 because I wanted to engage in meaningful work as an engineer that makes a difference to Singapore’s safety and security. Being able to do my part in solving a criminal case and uncovering the facts through forensics is what I look forward to in my work, and what I’m most proud of.
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Vivian Moh
  2. 21 December 2020
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