New forensic lab yet to do any testing for police

The recently opened Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory has not yet started conducting tests for police investigations although it had been touted that the facility would boost the investigative capacity of law enforcement in the crime fight.

Since the announcement in 2010 that money was set aside in the budget to construct the facility, it was expected that it would be a police forensic lab and that among the staff would be the ranks attached to the police force’s crime lab.

According to Crime Chief Leslie James, a merger of the two facilities will take place in the immediate future. He said the process has started but he did not give a timeframe for when it is expected to be completed. “We do have our ranks who are posted there so eventually what we will see is a smooth transaction from what we have right now over there,” he said, while adding that four ranks from the force’s crime lab have already been placed at the new lab.

He said that the four ranks will be in a learning environment where they will eventually become au fait with the system. “It is a professional lab. It is in keeping with international regulations. The fact that they have gone over there will get themselves climatised with all that is in place,” he added.

The one billion dollar lab was commissioned on July 14. Construction began in June 2011 but the project had been hit by a number of issues, resulting in completion being delayed.

Asked if the lab has undertaken any testing as it relates to criminal investigations, James said, “No. At the moment, we are still having them done at our regular police lab.”

Stabroek News attempted to ascertain if any testing at all is being done at the new lab but was unable to get this information. Though information has been received that some amount of testing has been done already, it is unclear what it was about or for whom. It has already been said that the new lab will provide a revenue stream for the government of Guyana, with various scientific tests being offered to clients locally and, at a later stage, internationally.

A visit to the facility last week proved futile in terms of this newspaper’s attempts to get information on what has been happening there since it was commissioned. At the gate, there is a sign which stated that no authorized person is allowed inside. One of the security guards told this newspaper from the guard hut that no entry can be granted unless the Ministry of Home Affairs grants permission. Asked whether the director of the facility was in the building, the security guard responded in the negative. Asked if contact can be made with those inside to advise who at the ministry this newspaper had to make contact with, the guard responded that she did not have the facility [a telephone] needed to make contact with those in the building nor did she know the facility’s telephone number.

The new lab falls under the control of the Home Ministry.

Over at the ministry, Stabroek News was again unable to get information pertaining to who the director was, how contact could be made with the person or who else could provide the information that was being sought. The PS was said to be on leave and this newspaper was unable to reach Minister Clement Rohee.

This newspaper was asked to send the minister an email but although this was done there was no reply.

The size of the staff of the new lab remains unclear. Based on advertisements placed in the daily newspapers, there are at least 14 members on staff in addition to the four police ranks. Among the staff should be a director, an evidence officer, a quality control officer, a forensic support officer and an information systems officer.

The minister, in his address at the commissioning ceremony, had said that the lab will aim to use scientific techniques in solving crimes that the country had never seen before. He stated that the use of these techniques is all part of a system in keeping with international best practices.

Rohee assured that the lab will not be another white elephant and said that there has been discussions on the question of the clientele of the laboratory in order to formulate a business plan to ensure that at every stage of its development it is active.

He said the facility is outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, including highly specialised systems, which will keep track of all evidence submitted for analysis. He said that the lab will specialise in testing toxic substances, narcotic drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, and biological fluids. He said that based on a mandate given by the President and the Cabinet, the ministry has been tasked with working to introduce some elements of laboratory DNA testing at the facility.

What is of critical importance, he said, is the adherence to international standards.

Meanwhile, a security source raised questions about the level of qualification and experience of the staff who are attached to the lab. Based on the advertisements, those applying for the senior positions require post-graduate qualification in the sciences or related disciplines and for the other post a Bachelor of Science degree in the respective science fields together with three to five years of experience.

This newspaper was told that the new lab will be particularly helpful to the police because the force’s lab lacks the necessary equipment to conduct needed tests. As it stands, the police lab can perform ballistic tests, blood grouping, basic toxicology, and tests of corrosive substances and counterfeit currency. Fingerprinting has recently been added to the list.

The source said that some of the other critical tests that need to be conducted cannot be done at this facility as it lacks the equipment.

At the opening ceremony for the new lab, it was stated that those hired where exposed to training conducted by a Barbadian official. It is unclear how long that training went for or whether it was continuous.

According to the source, in addition to experience, what is needed at the new lab would be routine maintenance of the equipment to ensure that it does not malfunction. The source said that it makes sense to have someone physically present at the lab as opposed to having to rely on overseas-based experts to undertake this task, which would be expensive. It is unclear too how far along the discussions on having DNA testing done at the facility have gone. This facility is the first of its kind in Guyana.

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