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Computer Program Could Help Solve Arson Cases

By University of Alberta

April 28, 2014

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University of Alberta researchers say they have developed software that can cut the need for extra levels of human analysis in arson cases, reducing the waiting time to determine the cause of a deliberately set fire. "By getting the laboratory results back quickly, investigators can use this information to ask the right questions when interviewing people or evaluating other evidence, which will help them resolve the case more quickly by pointing them in the right direction," says Royal Canadian Mounted Police National Forensic Laboratory Services researcher Mark Sandercock.

The Alberta study is the first to use a mathematical model to classify debris pulled from suspected arson scenes, going beyond research based solely on simulated debris. The researchers focused the study on gasoline because it is the most commonly used ignitable liquid used in arsons.

The researchers used chemical profiles taken from burned carpet, wood, and cloth to develop a computer filter that isolated the signature of gasoline in the data.

"It's a system that is quite accurate and goes down a similar investigative path that a human would when looking at the data," says Alberta professor James Harynuk.

From University of Alberta
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