Scots asked to take pictures of their footwear to catch criminals

Thousands of people are being asked to take pictures of their footwear in the largest ever study to create a new forensic science database.

Footwear marks, also called shoeprints, deposited at crime scenes may be used to link a type of shoe or possibly a specific make to the scene.

Being able to do this in a way that is scientifically valid requires information about how a mark a shoe makes changes over time or changes when it is made on different surfaces or with different pressures and activities, such as jumping, running and walking.

The University of Dundee’s Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science (LRCFS) is undertaking the largest ever study into the variation in footwear marks made by the same shoes across different surfaces and activities so the variation observed can be used to explore links between the shoe and the mark it makes.

To do this, they are asking thousands of individuals to take part in a large-scale citizen science project by taking pictures of their footwear and the marks they make.

This will help the Dundee team build a substantial database for use in their research to aid the scientific validation of footwear marks as evidence for use in the criminal justice system.

Professor Niamh Nic Daeid, director of LRCFS, said: “Footwear marks are a common evidence type found at crime scenes and can be made on many different surfaces. They are recovered by crime scene examiners and may be used to potentially determine the footwear type and possibly other information to try and identify a specific shoe or to link crime scenes together.

“However, we have little scientific studies to help us in understanding how certain we can be about such links.

“Within our research centre we want to explore new ideas and approaches for tackling some of the challenges in forensic science, particularly around creating open databases of information that forensic scientists need.

“One way we are doing this is through Citizen Science projects, giving people the opportunity to contribute to real research and to generate new data and knowledge.

“Sole Searching is the first of these citizen science projects, all of which will emphasise the importance of good data collection and careful recording of results – both are a fundamental part of conducting good science.”

Schoolchildren in and around Dundee are among those who will be participating in the Sole Searching project.

The images and measurements participants provide will demonstrate the marks different types of footwear make when the wearer is standing, walking, running and jumping.