Canadas federal, provincial, and municipal police forces include almost 60 000 police officers. The RCMP make up the federal police force and act as provincial police in all provinces and territories except Ontario and Quebec. The RCMP focuses on federal matters such as international smuggling, drug enforcement, organized crime, and intelligence gathering. Provincial police forces have jurisdiction in rural areas, and municipal police forces have jurisdiction in towns and cities. These forces usually contain units that specialize in areas such as gang crime, robbery, and homicide. In addition, each First Nation can enter into an agreement with the federal and provincial governments to establish either Aboriginal units or stand-alone police forces.
Starting a Police Investigation
When officers arrive at the crime scene where the offence took place, they call an ambulance and assist injured people, eliminate hazards that still pose a risk, protect people at the scene, search the crime scene, and protect it from contamination. The crime scene is preserved for three reasons: to allow for a thorough search, to seize and collect physical evidence, and to ensure that the physical evidence seized is admissible in court. Investigators record their observations and the remarks of witnesses or suspects in a police log. These logs help officers to recall events when they testify in court. They also use photographs, sketches and other recording techniques to document crime scene evidence.
The patrol officer who is usually the first on the scene wraps yellow police tape around the crime scene, conducts initial interviews with witnesses, and arrests suspects still on the scene. A scenes of crime officer collects and preserves evidence, such as fingerprints and blood and hair evidence. A criminal identification officer examines the scene for physical evidence, analyzes it, and sends some types of evidence to a laboratory. A criminal investigations bureau officer has experience in a particular area of crime and supervises the investigation, interviews witnesses and suspects, draws conclusions from physical evidence and arrests suspects.
Identifying and Collecting Physical Evidence
Forensic scientists examine and analyze the physical evidence found at a crime scene. They may be medical doctors who perform autopsies on the body, forensic chemists, and etymologists. Many different kinds of physical evidence may be found at a crime site. Tools such as hammers and screwdrivers used in the commission of a crime may have been left behind. There might be impressions of shoes or tires on surfaces. These impressions are divided into class characteristics (the manufacturer or model of the object) and individual characteristics (specific and unique features of the object). Fingerprints and glove impressions can be lifted from surfaces. Crimes against people often result in the transfer of bodily fluids and elements such as blood, semen, hair and skin from the suspect to the victim. The police can use any of these substances for DNA testing and other laboratory tests in order to match the elements with a particular suspect.
Items of evidence must be carefully labelled so that they can be easily identified at a later date. All evidence collected at the crime scene is tagged and placed in an evidence package. Proper labelling of evidence ensures that it has not been contaminated or tampered with. From the time evidence is discovered to the time it is produced in court, the chain of custody - a witnessed record of all the people who had control over the items of evidence - remains unbroken.
Arrest and Detention
Once the police have collected physical evidence, they usually begin to question the suspect. Depending on the amount of evidence collected, the police may make an arrest either before or after questioning. Procedures for dealing with suspects have been codified in the Criminal Code, developed through case law, and entrenched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Before making an arrest, the police must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person they wish to arrest is the offender.
The police are required by law to promptly inform the person of the reason for the arrest and of his or her right to counsel. Once an arrested person has been informed of his or her rights, anything the accused says to the police or puts in writing can be used against that person in court. Police officers are not allowed to force a suspect to answer their questions. The police usually attempt to develop a trusting relationship with the accused in order to try to get at the truth of the case.
For most summary conviction offences and those indictable offences that are less serious, the police will not arrest the person but will issue an appearance notice, a legal document compelling that person to appear in court on a certain date at a specific time. If the person fails to appear, the police will ask the judge to issue a bench warrant and then arrest the accused. If the police believe that a person accused of a crime will appear in court voluntarily, they may ask a judge or justice of the peace to issue a summons which informs the suspect of the charges and when to appear in court. If the police believe that the person will not appear in court willingly, they can obtain an arrest warrant. Under some circumstances, the police can arrest suspects without a warrant. Ordinary people such as store detectives are allowed to make a citizens arrest to apprehend a suspect.
Police do not have to obtain a warrant to search a person they have just arrested. Usually they do a cursory pat-down to check for weapons or concealed evidence. The Supreme Court of Canada has laid down strict guidelines about how strip searches may be conducted. Generally, the police must obtain a search warrant from a judge or justice of the peace before conducting a search for evidence in places such as a residence, office, or store. Before conducting their search, the police must identify themselves and show the warrant to the person living or working in the place to be searched.
Once a person has been arrested, fingerprinted, and photographed, the police will often release the accused until the trial. Release is usually automatic for people accused of a summary or indictable offence that carries a fine of $5000 or less. Sometimes the accused will be asked to sign a promise to appear or a recognizance. Both documents are promises to appear in court for the trial. Those accused of more serious crimes may sometimes be let out on bail, which means that they post money or other security to guarantee their appearance in court.