– Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory to also have criminal database
By Michael Jordan
Look no longer overseas.
Detectives from the Guyana Police Force will soon turn to scientists at a highly secured laboratory right here, for DNA evidence that can help them catch a robber, a rapist, identify a corpse, or nab a killer.
That’s because the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory (GFSL), located at Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, will have the capability, in four months time, to conduct DNA testing.
The GFSL’s Director, Delon France revealed this during an exclusive interview with Kaieteur News.
“We have already gotten approval from the Government and the Inter-America Development Bank (and) a supplier (for the equipment) has already identified. We are at the final stage, where the documents have been signed for the equipment to be supplied to do DNA testing.”
Mr. France estimates that Guyana will have DNA testing capability by June. Training of staff will also be complete by then. The equipment will have the capacity to conduct test on eight samples at a time.
DNA evidence was first collected here and sent overseas in 1993 for the still-unsolved Monica Reece case. DNA samples tested overseas also helped to confirm the identity of Babita Sarjou, whose skeletal remains were found behind her husband’s Lot 51, Seaforth Street residence in May, 2016.
Similar samples sent to an overseas lab also helped confirm the identity of secondary school teacher, Nyozi Goodman whose remains were found at Pattensen, Turkeyen, in 2016.
But the prohibitive cost, and the lengthy time they have often had to wait for results, has always presented a challenge to investigators.
It costs Guyana an estimated $1.75M to have just one DNA sample transported and tested overseas.
“This includes air fare; someone has to take the samples and also bring them back,” France said.
He estimates that it will cost an estimated $US400,000 to have Guyana’s DNA unit set up. But he predicts that “it would be cheaper in the long run,” for the tests to be done locally.
DNA Database Laws to Take Samples from Suspects
But the GFSL Director cautions that the results from DNA will not be immediately seen. He disclosed that laws are still to be enacted that will allow investigators to take DNA samples from suspects.
“We are now starting to build, plus the legal requirements are going to be a hurdle.
“We have to amend the laws to empower the police to take evidence from suspects, and all persons in prison.”
“You (will) sign a form that you gave us consent to take your DNA, and the law will also be in place to back us to allow us to take that DNA sample.”
And when they seek to match forensic evidence to a suspect, local detectives will be able to dip into a database that will store DNA information of suspects and felons.
“If I go on a crime scene and I swab and get DNA samples, I don’t know whose DNA is there,” France said.
“Even if I get a profile, I don’t know whose profile it is. What the US does, is if they arrest someone, say a drunk driver, even for 72 hours, the lab would put it (the individual’s DNA information) in their database. Even if that person is not charged, they still have your DNA.”
“The (local) database will also have your photograph, your race, height, and information about where you are living. The law has to make provision for all of this to put into the database.”
Having such a database, may even allow investigators to crack some cold cases. And, as has been the case in the US in particular, DNA evidence could also exonerate individuals who were wrongly convicted.
But success in cracking old cases and exonerating the innocent will also depend on how well police have been collecting and storing their forensic evidence over the years. From the inception, the GFSL has been training investigators in this area and other forensic-related areas.
“One of the things we did before we open, was that we trained over 350 officers. Last week, we trained about 40 persons. Our training is on evidence collection, storage, transport and submission of evidence and we also highlight the right packaging for different types of evidence, and what type of evidence can be collected for investigation.”
Offering Services Locally and Overseas
Because operating a laboratory like the GFSL is so costly, Mr. France is seeking to alleviate this cost by offering the lab’s services locally and overseas. He explained that while some local laboratories offer DNA testing, these samples are actually tested at facilities overseas.
“It will be cheaper to conduct DNA tests here, and that is one of the services that the lab hopes to be offering locally and to some Caricom states to keep the organisation financially stable,” the GFSL Director said.
Since the laboratory presently offers several other services, one profitable area he is looking at is drug testing for local and Caribbean athletes.
“We have a lot of athletes who go for Olympics, and one of the requirements is drug screening. What I plan to do is to partner with the Olympic Association, so that rather than sending these athletes to Barbados to do these tests, we can do it, and have the Olympic Association, pay us, or whatever Athletic body that funds drug testing for athletes.”
(This is the first in a three-part series on the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory)
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