By Michael Jordan
He has an easygoing demeanor, and sports neither gun, uniform or badge, so one can easily mistake Senior Superintendent of Police Edgar Thomas for a university lecturer, rather than the experienced cop that he is.
But criminals take note: Thomas is an Information Technology expert with some 30 years of training in Japan and India. He also heads the Guyana Police Force’s growing team of ‘new detectives’, who are using their technological savvy to literally solve cases from the office, without ever having to confront a suspect face to face.
Mr. Thomas is in charge of the Force’s recently-acquired computerised fingerprinting system, which has already helped his colleagues solve at least three unsolved murders.
He has several other gadgets at his disposal, from devices that can track kidnappers and visitors entering and leaving Guyana, to a $7M piece of software that can enhance blurred surveillance camera images. There are also other gadgets for ‘covert operations’ that even his colleagues have no clue exist.
In an exclusive interview last week with Kaieteur News, SSP Thomas indicated that the Force is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world in terms of crime-fighting technology, and is even on par with some countries.
“We cracked a lot of cases using technology, but if I expose that technology it would not do us any good.”
He spoke glowingly of the Forces’ recently-acquired Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), which is helping to crack cold cases.
Displayed prominently in the popular ‘CSI’ television series, AFIS is a computer system that matches fingerprints of suspects to existing fingerprints that are stored in a database.
Last week, Deputy Police Commissioner (Law Enforcement) Seellal Persaud confirmed that the fingerprinting technology has helped police to arrest a suspect in the 2011 unsolved murder of drug store proprietor Harold Rachpaul.
It has also helped police to identify a suspect in the March 23, 2011 murder of 73-year-old Najiean Sadick, who was slain in her Gaulding Place, South Ruimveldt residence. Police had stored prints from both crime scenes, but had failed to match them to the suspects, because of the antiquated methods they were using prior to acquiring the AFIC technology.
“You now have a system in which you can determine (a fingerprint match), within minutes…cold cases that you have tried to solve for years you can now solve,” Senior Superintendent Thomas said.
“I am also certain that when that message gets out (about this technology), the criminals will try to protect themselves, but we know the saying that ‘a criminal can’t leave the scene of a crime without leaving some sort of evidence’, and that is a proven theory. We know that somewhere along the line we will have fingerprints.”
Some 22 ranks from the Force’s A, B, C, Divisions, as well as from CID Headquarters, Eve Leary, underwent training relating to the fingerprinting technology.
“In that short time, they made hits (identified matching prints of suspects).
But fingerprints alone cannot solve a case; you can’t convict a man on a fingerprint alone; you have to have other evidence…it boils down to the investigation and the technology.”
Equipment has been installed at a number of stations that allow ranks to scan prints and other data of suspects and relay this information to CID Headquarters, where AFIS is installed.
“Our law permits us to take the fingerprints of a suspect, but if that person is not convicted the print should be destroyed. The law also permits you to take the height of the person and take a photograph.” The Force’s AFIS database is also connected to similar databases in the Caribbean.
The new fingerprinting system will also be used for persons seeking police clearances.
And SSP Thomas explained that since AFIS can identify the populace by fingerprinting, the technology could also be used by the Guyana Elections Commission to eliminate fraud in the form of multiple registrations.
“We are all aware that fingerprinting is a complete science, so that when you have that photograph, you can match that photograph to a print.”
“There’s no danger of over loading the system. We have a very small population. AFIS was designed for countries with very large populations, countries like China, India and America, so we’re not even one tenth of that.”
Thomas was first exposed to the ‘very expensive’ AFIS technology in 1998, during a training programme in India.
He revealed that the Force began advancing to the technological age under the now deceased Commissioner of Police Laurie Lewis, who ensured that some of his ranks were trained in the use of computers.
Computers in Police Vehicles
The computer expert also spoke about the Integrated Crime Information System, which is a database that will have information on wanted persons and persons of interest to the police force.
“Very shortly, we will have computers placed in vehicles; you will be able to stop a person in the road, and go through that database at ICIS, and know if that is a person of interest. But we are not in a position to do that as yet.”
Visitors monitored at airports
Mr.Thomas also revealed that since 2007, Guyana has had a Border Monitoring System, which enables security personnel to monitor persons entering and leaving Guyana via airports and other legal ports of entry.
“We have a border monitoring system, similar to the one used by the US and Canada that is able to track people coming into the country.
“For instance, if you go through the airport, we scan your passport and that information goes into a database; apart from that we check against Interpol. We know if you are still around, we can go to the computer and know that you did not pass out through the legal channel; and very soon, we will not only know you by your name but by your recent picture.
It helps us to check legitimate and fraudulent passports; and if they overstay, we can pick them up. We also know who is coming into our country before they arrive…from the time that a passenger boards a plane we have that information; we don’t have to wait on the manifest. At this moment we are upgrading our system in keeping with international standards.”
The Border Monitoring System is in place at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, the Ogle International Airport, and a similar system is to be set up at Lethem
Phone-tracking devices and $7M image-enhancing software
According to the Force’s Information technology head, since the 2003 -2008 ‘crime wave’ era, the Guyana Police Force has significantly improved its methods of track monitoring criminals and tracking suspects. One of these is through Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and “some covert devices,” which Thomas declined to identify.
Asked about the Government-installed Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras to monitor criminal activity, Thomas stated that these cameras are producing “very good” images.
He also revealed that the Force recently acquired Video Enhanced software (Ocean Dtective), at a cost of over $7M, which will enable investigators to enhance CCTV images.
Often, images police collect from privately-owned CCTV cameras are barely recognizable.
“A lot of people install CCTV (cameras) for the name of CCTV, but the quality is not there. In one case I was at a scene and the person who installed the camera, rather than having it focusing on intruders coming through the door, they were focusing on the cashier. So a lot of samples that we collect are not good for processing. “
“What people need to be advised is if you fix the CCTV system, you must be able to place it in some strategic position so that it must be able to capture perpetrators coming towards you or entering the premises. But I must admit we were not equipped to enhance CCTV images. But that is now history; we are in a position now to use Ocean Dtective to enhance CCTV images.”
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