Forensic science is the application of scientific principles to legal matters and it has brought a magnificent and profound revolution to the area of crime-solving. At odds with this global impact is a wide gap between the application of specialist skills and public knowledge and awareness of forensic science in criminal investigations in Ghana. Complex practical problems have been generated in Ghana’s criminal justice system as a result of this. To gain a better understanding of this problem, we set out to assess the state of forensic support to criminal investigations by examining public knowledge and perception of forensic science in Ghana.
To this account, in June 2018 the research idea led to an elaborate survey which was conducted among 200 consented respondents in selected neighborhoods (Ashaiman, Accra, Kpone-Katamanso and Tema) in The Greater Accra region. These communities were selected based on homogeneity, population density, economic or industrial activities, and the nature of crime and police activities. The survey included face to face interviews, questionnaire responding, and random phone calls on the ticket of ethical consideration which was granted by the CID Headquarters of Ghana.
The study revealed very interesting findings concerning crimes in Ghana, the institutions responsible for enforcing the law (Ghana Police Service (GPS)), their historic developments and current state. GPS had adapted scientific approaches to solving crimes since the creation of The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in 1921. In 1922 a fingerprint unit was established to support investigations at the CID Headquarters until the year 2011 which saw the creation of a forensic science laboratory at “Kawo Kudi” in Accra. Even though it is the only ultramodern forensic laboratory in West Africa with five different sections, it is the only laboratory serving all the 651 police stations across the 16 regions of Ghana.
Upon survey and series of interviews, it was realized that even in this era of technology and the internet most people were not aware of forensic science and it indeed indicated that forensic science in Ghana has “gone dark”. The research conducted showed that 165(82.5%) who had a formal education of various levels had very limited knowledge about forensic science and procedures. The majority of the respondents 179(89.5%) had no idea about forensics and for that matter lacked awareness of forensics in Ghana while the state of forensics in Ghana was rated on the scale of good (10.5%), bad (81.5%) and very bad (8%). Most fascinatingly, the response from a sample of the population who showed interest in or were involved in science or law programmes showed that most of them had a different view or limited knowledge about forensic science with the CSI effect significantly impacting response.
The study identified the lack of awareness of forensic science amongst the Ghanaian population including the elite and non-elite of the society and more fascinatingly, some security personnel notably private security guards and Motto Traffic & Transport Department (MTTD) of the GPS. Education is a vital precursor of knowledge acquisition and it must be leveraged to tackle the issue of advocacy and awareness about forensics in the country. It was realized that most people in Ghana thought that the solution to solving crimes “was arrest and prosecute”. Upon interviewing and further probing, they described forensic support to criminal investigations as a force that will contribute to the massive reduction of numerous blanketed crimes, wrongful convictions and exonerations, and emerging and existing crimes such as kidnapping, cybercrime, misled court decisions regarding sexual assault, the list of unsolved murders, and many other crimes in Ghana.
Based on the findings of this study, the poor state of forensics in Ghana present peculiar difficulties in the future looking at the unpredictable increase of crime rate in the country. Steps to avert this could include creation of a national forensic database, funding forensic research, granting scholarships and funding for forensic studies. On the academic side, establishing a recognized society, the inclusion of basic forensics in educational curriculum as well as engaging in forensic outreach activities will go a ong way to spread information. Instituting forensic departments and programmes in universities will maximizing the potential forensics, autonomy and independence of forensic laboratories.
A nation without peace and justice institutions, human rights, and effective governance through the rule of law cannot boast of proper security, sustainability, and prosperity. So the cost of security might be overwhelming outrageous in a developing country like Ghana and it might not seem so easy shifting from the old methods of doing things, however, it is worth spending more on improving forensic science if Ghana still believes in the fundamentals of freedom and justice.