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[Weekender] Tech plays bigger role in fighting crime

As crimes become more complex, the role of technology has been ever more crucial in nabbing and indicting suspects.

From autopsies and fingerprint recognition to DNA and psychological analyses, the Korean police have improved over the years.

Korea Crime Scene Investigation agents demonstrate how they secure evidence and investigate a crime scene. (Yonhap)
Korea Crime Scene Investigation agents demonstrate how they secure evidence and investigate a crime scene. (Yonhap)

Among the technologies that have been developed, the advancement of fingerprint analysis is especially noticeable since its introduction to Korea in 1984.

Fingerprints often provide crucial clues in many criminal cases. Over 120 distinguishing points exist on a single fingerprint. The police can identify a suspect with just 12.

In June last year, Korea’s fingerprint recognition technology played a major part in a high-profile case. When the de facto owner of Sewol ferry Yoo Byung-eun -- who absconded after his ship sank off the southwestern sea in April, killing 304 -- was found dead in a remote village in South Jeolla Province, there were doubts whether the badly decomposed body was actually his.

Simultaneously, with tooth identification, the police conducted a “high temperature-moisturizing method”-- which instantly expands fingers in 100 degree Celsius water so the fingerprints can be secured using adhesive fingerprint tape. The police were successful in securing one fingerprint.

This advanced fingerprint technique was introduced by Korean police officer Yoon Kwang-sang in the early 2000s. It was widely recognized in 2004 when Yoon and some agents were dispatched to Thailand to support the relief operations during the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy. They were able to identify 18 victims with this method.

Yoon, who later acquired a patent for the “high temperature-moisturizing method,” received the top scientific investigation award from the police in 2014 in recognition of advancing scientific investigation technology.

Since 2013, the Korean police have annually provided training on the fingerprint analysis to forensic experts from Bahrain and Guatemala, and the technology is also exported to countries such as the U.S. for use by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the police.

In Korea, the police have identified 1,157 bodies out of 3,032 mysterious deaths in the last five years with the fingerprint analysis method, the police said.

Hand in hand with such advanced technologies, criminal profilers also play a crucial role in solving high-profile cases, especially in finding serial killers.

Criminal profilers are criminologists who psychologically analyze a suspect’s behavior and motive for clues. In many cases, their work involves screening separate criminal cases and looking for a connection.

Although patience, sharp observation and ability to meticulously analyze a suspect’s psychological mind are essential for profilers, there is one attitude that is crucial when questioning suspects, experts say.

“Whenever profilers question suspects, they should not be dominated by a psychological game with suspects. Unless profilers have a firm belief and standards about good and evil, they can get confused over the difference between right and wrong in the game when listening to suspects,” said Bae Sang-hoon, the head of police studies at Seoul Digital University.

Bae was one of the first profilers recruited by the government in 2005. He worked as a profiler until 2010.

The role of profilers was not widely recognized until the murderer of 20 women over years, Yoo Young-chul, was caught in 2003. Yoo’s premediating plans and cruel murder methods raised public calls for the police to expand the pool of profilers.

According to the police’s data, 26 profilers work across the country as of this year. They have tackled more than 2,200 criminal cases from 2011 to September this year.

As crime skills evolve, the police’s focus is also changing. The government, nowadays, is injecting efforts to preventing cybercrimes, which are increasing in the country. As of last year, Internet fraud topped cybercrimes with some 56,600 cases, followed by online financial fraud with 15,600 cases.

The government launched an anti-cybercrime department last year. It also expanded the number of officers with expertise in digital forensic science, computer programming and engineering.

“The investigation skills are evolving with the changing profile of crimes. Internet crimes are growing in Korea, which has a well-developed IT infrastructure. Digital forensic technology has also developed, such as in decoding and analyzing seized hard drives or securing electronic evidence,” said Lee Soo-jung, forensic psychology professor at Kyonggi University.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (

Korea Herald daum