Modern forensic tools By Sharjil Kharal - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

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CRIME detection is one of the main concerns of modern police forces. Across the world, law-enforcement bodies strive to obtain evidence through scientific means.

One of the first scientific developments in this regard was that of the fingerprint system as an investigative tool in the detection of crime. Since this technique was adopted, crime patterns have changed. Now, there is an electronic signature. The advent of cyber crime has led to the evolution of the discipline of computer forensics. Today, it is possible to detect the computers used by perpetrators for carrying out the offence. Similarly, the increased use of cellphones in the commission of crimes has compelled the police to focus on developing cellphone forensics through which one can establish a person’s presence at a crime scene where no material evidence may be available.

Other sophisticated gadgets such as polygraphs and voice stress analysers are used for verifying suspects’ statements. Almost all police forces increasingly rely on video footage acquired of any significant incident, such as an accident, a crime or an incident of terrorism. Police forces have been able to positively identify terrorists in post-blast incidents through the images captured on state-of-the-art cameras.

Earlier, fingerprint examination was done manually. The Sindh police have been using this tool through a fingerprint bureau where images of the fingerprints of suspects were prepared on a print card using roller ink. With the introduction of the Pakistan Automated Fingerprint Identification System (PAFIS), fingerprints are secured and processed electronically through biometric technology.

The current PAFIS database has a record of around 200,000 digital fingerprint impressions of suspects arrested and charged in various cases. The centralised PAFIS database has helped check the inter-provincial movement of suspects. Fingerprint impressions that are stored in the database can easily be matched against the latent impressions lifted from a crime scene as well as with the impressions already stored in the national databank. DNA-typing is a revolutionary technology currently being used by the Sindh police. The value in DNA-typing lies in accurately being able to establish the identity of a suspect or other person. Such analysis also helps in identifying potential suspects whose DNA may match with evidence left at a crime scene. Furthermore, it helps exonerate wrongly accused persons.

Investigators of the Sindh police successfully identified several victims of the 2007 Karsaz bombing through DNA analysis. Then in 2008, in the much-publicised case of the rape of a young girl near the Quaid’s mausoleum, the suspects were traced through this method of analysis. The DNA samples of four suspects matched with samples secured from the crime scene. DNA analysis also proved beyond doubt the involvement of the ‘white Corolla’ rapist who used to stalk his victims in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority area in 2008.

It would be fitting to put in a word about the digital forensic capabilities of the Sindh police. Digital forensics involves the accurate analysis and presentation of computer-related evidence. It is a tool and technique to recover, preserve and examine digital evidence found on or transmitted by digital devices. The Sindh police forces existing capability includes the recovery of deleted data from cell phones, SIM cards, hard drives and the retrieval of Internet history, IMEI numbers, email records, messages, call logs, call data records and SIM forensics. The investigation units of the Sindh police have successfully traced several cases with the help of these modern tools.

The much-awaited video surveillance system for Karachi is to be implemented soon. This system will help in deterring terrorist acts and street crime, traffic monitoring, the enhancement of VIP security and of overall levels of public safety and security. The existing CCTV system can only show a video recording of the incident and cannot be used to retrieve or magnify certain other aspects of the footage. With the video surveillance system, such limitations will be removed through image-enhancing features.

Despite the availability of the tools, the Sindh police force still faces tough challenges in crime detection. Some of the techniques involve cost-intensive equipment and training of officers. Similarly, the absence of a laboratory for testing DNA samples is a hurdle — samples have to be sent to Islamabad. DNA testing is costly and the police must be very selective about getting the analysis done in high-profile cases alone.

The fact that the National Database and Registration Authority does not allow the police access to its family tree or fingerprint data — the latter numbering over 80 million — leads to great difficulty in tracing suspects. Similarly, the lack of access on an urgent basis to cellphone data by the companies is also a handicap. It is true that these organisations have provided some access, but it is selective and procedural delays hamper police investigations. Time is of the essence in the detection of crime and in some cases the police must act instantly to apprehend suspects.

What has been witnessed in modern jurisdictions around the world is across-the-board support provided to law-enforcement agencies by various organisations, both state-run and private, in crime investigation. In Pakistan, however, such institutions have displayed a myopic approach whereby facilitation is the exception rather than the norm, which brings about delayed results. There is no denying that the law and order situation in the country is a matter of concern and efficient and effective policing is what is needed.

It is time the authorities took notice of the issues outlined above and streamlined this very important and procedural aspect of local law enforcement. If the problems related to the use of forensic technology and procedural matters were to be resolved, the police would be facilitated in crime detection in a tremendous way and the cause of justice would be better served.

The writer is a senior superintendent of the police currently heading the Forensics Division of the Sindh police.

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