I thought that I would never come back to this place again. The only times I enjoyed Switzerland were the first and last couple of months of my almost three years spent there. The rest of my time consisted of trying to work out a defence mechanism against bullying and patronisation as an ‘external’ student in forensic science. As soon as I obtained my MSc, I was eager to go back home and contribute to a better Criminal Justice system there.
‘What is forensic science?” asked the colonel leading the Lebanese ISF (police) labs during my first interview (2013-2014), “we are not interested in people like you. We only take biologists, chemists, biochemists and criminologists here, as stated in this official paper.”
After showing me a list of specialty majors, I proposed to the colonel to add the terms “forensic scientists” or “criminalists”. That was the end of the meeting. My emotions were shaken, but my goals are clear and I keep moving forward. Instead of applying to the ISF at this point of my career, I took a different path.
As one of the INTREPID forensics researchers at the University of Leicester, I could better digest the difficulties experienced in Lebanon and in Switzerland. In fact, both countries are currently my most visited destinations outside of the UK and the USA. I just came back from the Swiss Alps where I participated to this year’s Summer Doctorate School in forensic science and criminology. It was an essential step for me.
The scenery was medicine to the soul. My first train ride was along lake Léman (or Geneva), with a view on paddle boarders savouring the French Alps in the background. Just when I thought that it could not get any better, the second train passed through well-tended vineyards, then the savage flora in harsh terrains with occasional dips in dark tunnels. Upon my arrival, I discover the most serene village at an altitude of 3000 m: Les Diablerets.
L‘Ecole des Sciences Criminelles (ESC), my Master’s school, organised this four days long event. My discussions with members of the ESC (my ex-professors and fellow students) and with other participants, suggested that I was in warm, interesting and interested company. I finally made friends with my past in Switzerland. On a free afternoon, I visited the glacier at the Col du Pillon together with three men. They brought great spirits to our adventurous excursion on “top-of-the-world”.
Gary Lafree, Professor of Criminology at the University of Maryland, is also the director of the national Consortium for Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). This Centre of Excellence was established in 2005, and contributes ever since to the analysis of domestic and international terrorism. Its open-source datasets system is a real treasure to academics, analysts, and practitioners. I share below one of their graphs showing the prevalence in the use of explosive devices since 1970, with the longest and sharpest incline occurring in 2011.Jason Silva is a Doctoral Student and lecturer in Criminal Justice at John Jay College / Graduate Centre, CUNY. His presentation was about media and its role in US mass shootings. Jason’s data reveals how “newsworthiness” as judged by the media, can distort the facts and put human lives at risk. Yuchen Hou, also undergoing his PhD at John Jay College, works on the “officer-involved shootings of civilians”. Do you really want to know some numbers? In 2015 alone, 991 people were shot and killed by the police in the USA (The Washington Post). However, and as M. Hou mentioned at the end of his talk: the probability of encountering an armed civilian is higher in the USA than almost anywhere else in the world.
Apart from spending quality time with these guys throughout the conference and on the glacier, their works have particularly drawn my attention when it involved the role of the media in the study of crime.
Is it because of my upbringing in a house of journalists that I always thought about such questions?
Finally, the works of Gary, Jason and Yuchen, reflect today’s importance in mastering specific informatics skills to harness and analyse data in Criminology.