Click here to print page

Science serving justice

Forensic lab steps up its game to deal with greater use of technology in crime-fighting

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 02, 2019

Dr Judith Mowatt, head of the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine, popularly called the Forensic Lab, has expressed confidence that it is ready for the increased demands for its services now that the police are relying more on technology to fight crime.

Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson recently told the Jamaica Observer that the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) will be leaning heavily on the lab as it moves crime fighting to another level.

But last Wednesday Mowatt told the Observer that she is prepared for any uptick in demand, as the lab is committed to having forensics serve justice.

“And justice for us is making sure that we provide the evidence that will convict the guilty and, just as importantly, we provide evidence that will exonerate the innocent,” said Mowatt.

“We are aware of the fact that with the advance in technology there is going to be an increase in demand for our services. In order to meet this demand, my staff and I are prepared to innovate in terms of using the equipment that we have at our disposal for maximum efficiency and productivity.

“In addition, we are also going to source the latest technology. For example, our DNA extraction unit currently does 16 samples in half an hour, which is a fixed amount. We have sought to acquire the latest version which does 48 samples in half-an-hour. So, in the same time frame we are going to produce three times the results,” added Mowatt.

She said the leadership of the lab has also started to engage the courts to find out what cases are going to be called up, and uses that information to ensure that those tests are done immediately.

“So that when the court dates are actually called the forensic evidence would be able to be presented, because the analysis would have already been done,” added Mowatt.

According to Mowatt, the lab has also received new machines for ballistics testing and has the latest technology available.

“We now have software that has been developed in-house by one of our staff members, the current head of ballistics…that when we put the ballistics data in it allows us to do geospatial mapping and it also allows us to connect the dots.

“So we can tell you if a gun has visited an area, if it is resident there because that is where it is always used, or whether it is a gang gun and it is being moved from place to place,” said Mowatt.

With geospatial mapping the lab can convert that data into intelligence and tell the police if the same gun has been used in multiple shootings.

“So let's say an incident occurred in St Catherine and the evidence is brought to us; if that same gun pops up in St Andrew we are able to tell the police that it is the same gun,” declared Mowatt, adding the lab has received support from several political administrations over the years.

Mowatt said the only challenge facing the lab now is staffing, but they are using creative methods, including hiring interns and people on contract, to provide the numbers.

In a recent exclusive interview with the Observer, General Anderson had expressed confidence that what was once the JCF Forensic Lab would be able to meet the demand of his detectives for test results.

“As our investigators get more concerned about forensics, ballistics and all of that, the load on the lab will increase significantly but I have always found them responsive. There is clearly a need for additional capacity and they are putting things in place, including technology, to allow for a quicker turnaround time,” added General Anderson.

He argued that recent delays in some criminal cases were not the fault of the lab, and there is no fear that any delay in the results of tests will impact the cases put together by his detectives.

“I have found them very cooperative, and even though it is now independent, and obviously there are cases where you just need to skip the line with that case, when you say this is urgent, they generally are pretty responsive within the capacity of the technology that they are using.

“They have some very modern equipment and it is a really first class facility, but there are some additional bits that they could incorporate to have an even faster turnaround time,” declared Anderson.