Many become glued to their television sets when they watch the popular “CSI,” an American TV series which shows details of how forensic scientists unveil the mysteries behind unusual deaths and crimes.
In the Philippines, science journalists recently visited the Philippine National Police (PNP) Crime Laboratory in Camp Crame and took a look at how the local “CSI” experts are solving crimes.
But wait. One might ask: “What are science journalists doing in a crime laboratory?” “Isn’t a police crime lab only a territory for police reporters?” another might add.
Solving crimes or forensics is a science which uses scientific tests or techniques in the investigation of crimes.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines forensics as “the use of science and technology to investigate and establish facts in criminal or civil courts of law.”
Wikipedia says, “Forensic science [often shortened to forensics] is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or to a civil action.”
“Forensicm” Wikipedia says, comes from the Latin word “forensis” meaning forum. During the time of the Romans, a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their side of the story. The individual with the best argumentation and delivery would determine the outcome of the case. In other words, the person with the best forensic skills would win.
It should be noted that almost all aspects of our lives nowadays are developed by advances in science—from food development through biotechnology, to medical products and equipment, to beauty products, to environment and to solving crimes.
In this case, all journalists—including police reporters, and not only science journalists—become involved in reporting stories that concern the application of science and technology.
To stress this point, the PNP Crime Lab manpower is composed of medical doctors, chemists, biologists, pharmacists, among others, with particular line of expertise, and underwent trainings in the country and abroad.
As one of the crime lab experts said: “If the law has made you a witness, remain a man of science,” because it is only through science where truth and justice prevails in a crime.
Ranking officers who head the different divisions of the PNP Crime Lab took turns in briefing the visiting science journalists from the Philippine Science Journalists Association Inc. (PSciJourn) on the operations of this vital branch of the national police.
The Fingerprint Lab, which is the oldest division dating back in 1945 under the former Philippine Constabulary Criminal Investigation Service (PC-CIS), is one of the busiest divisions in the crime lab.
Besides fingerprinting suspected criminals, the division also gives lectures and provides the military and police schools with fingerprint experts.
Supt. Arturo Cacdac Jr. said the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (Afis) matches the fingerprints of suspects with evidences collected. It is currently collating the fingerprint data of people involved in criminal cases.
Cacdac pointed out that “while the crime lab is not on a par with the US investigative agencies because they have modern and high-tech equipment, we are very much capable in the technical aspect.”
He revealed a five-year program to set up provincial crime lab units together with 26 drug testing centers. The PNP inaugurated this year the new crime labs in Rizal and Laguna. Six more are planned this year, 10 next year, nine in 2009, six in 2010 and six more in 2011.
Cacdac also mentioned a proposed construction of a forensics building in Camp Crame. He even joked that the Fingerprint Division people are crossing their fingers that the forensics building would come soon enough.
The Chemistry Division, headed by PCI Grace Eustaquio, determines if the suspect or victim has alcohol, poison or any toxic material in the body. It also analyzes the chemical content of exploded bombs.
The Polygraph Division, manned by psychology and criminology graduates, is headed by Major Nelisa Geronimo. She has been in her job for years, making her a lie-detector expert. She said many of the cases referred to her are suspected “inside-job cases.”
The PNP-NCR’s two analog and one digital machines are able to take the tests within about 30 minutes and release the results within 24 hours at 98 percent to 99 accuracy.
Geronimo said: “A woman less than four months pregnant can go through a polygraph test [because the baby is still less developed and his system will not hamper the test].”
She explained: “If the woman is five to nine months pregnant the lie-detector machine would have difficulty determining who it is monitoring since the baby inside her has functioning organs already.”
A person suffering from hypertension are also advised against going through a lie-detector test because it would be difficult to read the person’s blood pressure.
The DNA Division’s top man is PCI Francisco Supe, a doctor of medicine who has undergone extensive trainings in the field.
The Medico-Legal Division is in charge of identification of corpses through the use of DNA, autopsy and dental identification, among others.
Tampered serial numbers, bullets, shoe and footprints, cartridges or test firing of arms of different caliber are examined by the Physical Evidence Identification Division.
The Questioned Documents Division examines handwritings and signatures, tampered documents and fake bills, among others.
A team of experts in medico-legal, fingerprint and DNA, among others, from the crime lab have successfully identified victims of natural disasters, where corpses are too many and in advanced state of decomposition.
The men and women in this team are trained in Australia through a bilateral cooperation program. Thousands of victims from super typhoon Reming in Albay last year benefited from the work of these experts. Same with those in the Guinsaugon flash floods in Southern Leyte last year. — PSciJourn News Service