We have become a society immersed in images. Yet criminology academic Glenn Porter says in the world of forensic science, there are major blind spots in the way images are read and understood.
Glenn, a photographer with a law enforcement background, has spent his career combining these two areas of specialty to become Australia’s foremost expert in forensic photography. He spends his time researching, teaching and training law enforcement professionals to better understand how images can be used as robust evidence in court.
“Imaging is an important method for detecting and recovering evidence at a crime scene, but currently, that’s the weakest link in crime scene investigations in Australia and internationally,” Glenn says.
“In court, images are still often seen through a social and media context. They are used to construct a narrative, which is then presented as an aspect of fact, rather than being subject to a robust scientific analysis,” he says.
Glenn provides training for law enforcement organisations, such as the Australian Federal Police, helping to improve their knowledge around how different types of images work, and how to apply scientific methods to recover forensic detail.
“Police are increasingly relying on images provided by the public to help solve a case, such as dashcam or mobile phone footage and pictures.
“The training I deliver is about image concepts, forensic evidence, image quality and image science.
“It’s about building knowledge across the profession around how to transition images into robust evidence of fact and applying a consistent methodology to find any incriminating forensic evidence an image may contain.”
Glenn has provided expert evidence in several key NSW cases involving multiple homicide, armed robbery, arson and others in both criminal and civil courts. Glenn’s expertise has impacted how images are analysed to identify persons depicted in them. His research work and evidence were cited in a landmark Australian case and decision by the High Court of Australia.
“Part of the challenge is understanding the complexities of how images present facts to juries and understanding how images may also distort facts. For example sometimes CCTV footage may not match witness descriptions of events due to technical issues with the type of image or footage presented,” he says.
Glenn says while more police organisations are acknowledging the significance of better understanding images, it is a new area of forensic science with challenges ahead, especially when it comes to facial identification.
“With the increasing level of imagery within society, facial identification from images is becoming the new identification method for law enforcement agencies.
“With a current Bill under consideration within the Federal Parliament for law enforcement to have access to the facial biometric database from traffic authorities from driver’s licences, facial identification will become more of a game changer for law enforcement agencies.
“This would change the level of biometric access to almost all of the adult population. That’s going to have important implications for society and push the application of facial identification methods even further,” Glenn says.
Image: Glenn Porter, Associate Professor Criminology