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A day at police forensic lab

The chemistry lab contains a number of apparatus, scales and chemicals but kept locked. Any investigation that involves chemical substances such as gun powder is…

The chemistry lab contains a number of apparatus, scales and chemicals but kept locked. Any investigation that involves chemical substances such as gun powder is done at the lab. The lab hasn’t been used recently.

The document analysis section of the lab has special machines that can determine the thickness of papers and others that can detect the type of documents used in writing. Like the ballistic section, it does not suggest that the place was used recently.

At the disputed document section, there was a video spectra comparator used in detecting fake currency notes as well as any other forged documents. The only inspector in the section has been trained in the art of detecting fake signatures and has been so busy with bank cheques trying to clarify genuine and fake ones. It is the only section in the lab that receives cases most often.

In the interview below, the Head of the Police Forensic Unit, Dr. Vincent Okaa, said there is only one forensic laboratory for the police in Lagos and the police have only one crime scene camera.

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Vincent Okaa I graduated from the University of Ife where I read medicine and joined the police in 1979. I went to London Royal College where I read Forensic Pathology and to the University of Sheffield where I read advanced pathology in autopsy and returned in1992. I was posted to Police Staff College where I worked for seven  years. In 2002, I went to police forensic laboratory at Alagbon in Lagos and worked for three years before I was transferred to police hospital in Ikoyi where I worked at the pathology department. I was transferred to the police forensic section as head in 2008.

What are the challenges to police forensic activities?

We have a number of challenges on finger printing, document examination and in computer forensic which involves detecting crimes such as cloning of letters and signatures using computers. Through computer forensics, police can detect currency notes made illegally.

Our officials have received adequate training on document examination and could be able to detect the kind of ink and machines used in printing documents by examining them. Again, some officials have been trained on detection of fake signatures.

Do you have enough forensic experts to investigate crimes?

Forensic is a compound field consisting of areas including physics, chemistry, biology, pathology, medicine, finger printing and computer. You can’t have an expert who is vast in all the areas I mentioned but you can have an area of specialisation. We have experts in some areas like document examination, medicine, ballistic examination, DNA, finger printing and pathology but Nigeria is large we need more. Again, things are changing and there are emerging modern technologies in all areas which we need to adopt. We have forensic experts in the police but we are not satisfied with what we have we are trying to get more.

Can you compare the number of experts with the trend of crime?

Well, it is not the expertise they have but what is available to them to work.  Like the recent abduction of journalists in Abia State. We were told to join the rescue operation. Then how do you send people to Abia without facilities to work? We have equipment there but you need specialised equipment to certain crimes, so, how do you mobilise the people to the scene of crime?  Police have acquired seven scenes of crime vehicles that will soon be brought to Nigeria. They have all the necessary facilities to detect crime and one will be stationed at each of the geo-political zones in the country so that forensic experts can visit and assess crime scenes.

What is inside the crime scene vehicle?

There is fingerprinting machine in the vehicles as well as equipment that can detect crime clue on the wall or other places. There are also crime scene cameras that can view places where people don’t see.

About 120 people have already been trained on how to use crime scene machines to detect crime.  Experts have further trained our personnel this month (August) on the crime scene technology.

How many laboratories do you have?

We have one in Lagos which is not enough but with the presidential directives, we are going to have six more laboratories built. They will be located in each of the geo-political zones and will be controlled by a central lab in Lagos.

Do you have enough equipment in Lagos?

No forensic laboratory has enough equipment to detect all sorts of crime. Let me give you an instance. In computer crime otherwise white collar crime, there are faster machines used in detecting them unlike the ones available. So, as new machines come, you should be able to have them as well as train people on how to use them. We have equipment that can track telephone calls which can detect the person, and where a call is emanating from and the receivers including the people involved in the communication. We can trace text messages even those deleted and who deleted them.  What we need is the right machine to key into the telecom service providers system so that as calls are made, we may be able to trace them. We are trying to get machines now that can detect the area a call is coming from.

To what extent now can you detect telephone calls?

Once the phones are sent to us, we can detect who you call and who called you. But with time, we will get facilities that will locate the position of people making telephone calls.

How much will it cost to set up a forensic lab?

It is not the lab that matters but the expertise otherwise the training. To train one person in the 12 divisions in crime examination in other countries for six month will cost not less than $50,000. This amount did not include transportation and feeding.  These divisions include document examination, ballistics which has to do with firearms and ammunitions, cause of death, trace elements which involve the clues left at crime scene as well as DNA, chemistry, and so on. After that, you then buy kits for them to be able to work. A crime scene camera can costs between $30,000 and $50,000.

Do you have these cameras?

We are acquiring one now and each of the crime scene vehicles we ordered will come with a camera.

Which means you don’t have the cameras now?

We have one, but not the modern one we are talking about.

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