Thursday 18 July, 2019

Scientific evidence does not lie or die, says local forensic expert

Local police investigators engaged in a presentation at a forensic science training initiative in St Ann over the weekend.

Local police investigators engaged in a presentation at a forensic science training initiative in St Ann over the weekend.

Putting bad guys in jail is the job of the police. But what happens when the ‘informer fi dead’ culture kicks in and the sole witness to a crime is bullied into staying away from court?

According to internationally certified forensic crime scene investigator, the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) own Sergeant Delton Gordon, this scenario highlights why using forensic science to gather and analyse physical evidence is preferred to relying solely on witnesses.

“Witnesses may or may not be present,” he said, “but as the Locard principle tells us, every contact leaves a trace, and forensic science can use that trace to guide investigations to a successful outcome.”

Locard was a French criminologist, the pioneer in forensic science who became known as the ‘Sherlock Holmes of France’. He formulated the basic principle of forensic science: "Every contact leaves a trace". This became known as Locard's exchange principle. 

Gordon was speaking at a USAID-sponsored National Integrity Action (NIA) training initiative being held from September 7-9 at the Jewels Resorts in Runaway Bay, St Ann.  The training is geared at improving the investigative capacity of police investigators and ultimately, ensuring the best prosecutorial outcomes in court.

Other investigators participating in the forensic training initiative.

Gordon said historically, the investigative culture of the JCF featured a heavy reliance on the testimonies of witnesses, but the experience has proven that relying on witness testimony is problematic.

“Witnesses can die, they sometimes migrate or are ill and can no longer attend court… anything; but physical evidence never dies, and its use in investigations means that detectives can build stronger cases,” outlined Gordon.

“Science doesn’t lie, it doesn’t cheat, and it always shows up for appointments. Science can’t be intimidated or threatened…” he added.

A member of the JCF since June 1999, Gordon now heads the Forensic Crime Scene Training and Performance Unit of the Forensic Crime Scene Department of force. He said he is passionate about forensics, and is working to have all members of the JCF thinking along the lines of forensic science.

"Many times we (forensic crime scene investigators) are not the first responders, so everyone must have some knowledge of preserving evidence, and they can even guide us too," he said. "Simple things like using paper bags instead of plastic bags to store biological evidence can make a great deal of difference," he explained.

More participants at the training initiative.

Gordon, along with other experts such as former head of the Technical Services Division, Craig Dewar, are facilitators at the training initiative. The workshop, which is the fourth for this year, is supported by agencies such as the Justice Training Institute, the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine, the Financial Investigation Division, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Fifty investigators ranging from seasoned detectives, such divisional crime officers and detective inspectors, to newly minted detectives from across the island, are taking part. They are being sensitised to the latest principles, including the collection and storing of exhibits, forensic autopsy guidelines, financial investigations under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and more.

"I always enjoy functions like these," said Deputy Superintendent Chris Brown, crime officer for the parish of Clarendon.

"I always learn something new... Policing is so dynamic, laws are always changing, and criminals waste no time in applying new technology to their nefarious undertakings, so you have to be a step ahead with new innovations and emerging trends in forensic science," he added.

The NIA has, since 2012, undertaken a project aimed at improving the overall criminal justice system. Several stakeholders have received training under the project, including the JCF, the Department of Correctional Service (DCS) and Jamaica Customs.

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