Police building unified DNA database to fight crime

Adel Arafah
Filed on March 20, 2006

ABU DHABI In a bid to fight organised crime, the General Directorate of Abu Dhabi Police is currently building a unified national DNA database containing genetic information about all UAE nationals and expatriates living in the country.

The facility is part of the identity card project. Among other uses, it will help detect the identity of culprits involved in different crimes, and unravel the mystery that shrouds unsolved cases, Dr Colonel Ahmed Hassan Al Awadhi, Director of the Criminal Evidence Department at the Abu Dhabi Police General Directorate, said in an exclusive interview to Khaleej Times.

"We have begun to create the nationwide infrastructure of the database," he said.

DNA (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid) of more than 2,000 suspects and those in criminal police records have already been collected, he said.

The database has been set up in accordance with the directives of Lt.-Gen. Shaikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Interior Minister, who is allocating more than Dh5 million every year for providing hi-tech and sophisticated devices to the forensic laboratory of the Abu Dhabi Police.

More than Dh20 million has already been spent for the development and updating of the laboratory equipment over the past five years, he emphasised.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q. Firstly, tell us about the Criminal Evidence Department, and what is its role in the society?

A. It is one of the most important departments of the Abu Dhabi Police General Directorate, which facilitates crime detection and investigation by using hi-tech and advanced scientific technologies. The chief objective is to use our facilities and expertise for prosecuting the guilty and ensuring the acquittal of the innocent.

We spare no effort in mobilising all the scientific resources at our disposal, whether through our experts or our scientific equipment, to coordinate effectively with all organisations involved in combating crime.

Accordingly we provide all crime-related evidences to various crime investigating authorities which helps in unravelling the mystery surrounding the crime. The impartial, unbiased, and scientific evidence can also be used to exonerate an accused or to convict the guilty.

Q. What are the aspects and areas of specialisation of the department?

A. It is an affiliate of the General Directorate of Security Affairs manning the entry and exit points. It is run by experts in different specialisations. Criminal evidence experts search for these traces to identify them and by lifting fingerprints to be tested in the forensic laboratory. The technical tests on these traces and other material evidence from a crime scene give detectives crucial clues, assists in arriving at conclusive results and converting these material traces into criminal evidences which helps in solving a crime. The long process will, in the end, achieve the main objective of the Department, namely exonerating the innocent and convicting the guilty.

These specialised sections include checking and verifying the documents to ensure their authenticity and establish whether they are genuine or forged. Other specialists handle and detect the traces of arson and fires, machinery, firearms, traces of biological and DNA, toxics and narcotics, fingerprints, criminal chemistry to detect unknown substances as well as other areas of specialisations such as criminal photography and forensic medicine.

Q. What are the most important cases and crimes your experts and specialised sections have succeeded in ravelling?

A. The experts of the department, and through their areas of specialisations and the hi-tech devices used in the process have succeeded in unearthing several cases and crimes. These included murder, counterfeiting official documents and literature, traditional documents, local and foreign hard currencies, theft cases, deliberate damage to property, use of firearms, pinpointing the causes of crimes that break out in factories and warehouses.

They also analyse suspect materials such as drugs. They also detect and examine the biological remains of dead bodies, injured persons, drug abusers . They detect biological pollutants such as blood, saliva, hair or human remains like bones and teeth. They also detect traces of footprints and car tyres which helps in profiling a culprit.

The department not only provides its services to Abu Dhabi, but offers it to officials in all other emirates as well when its assistance is sought.

Generally speaking the department has played an effective role in solving the mystery shrouding many crimes. These include the case of the serial murder of taxi drivers in June 2000. The experts had succeeded in identifying the killer by analysing samples taken from the stomach of the victims. The result of the lab tests showed that a particular substance was repeatedly used by the culprit, namely the deadly insecticide called Lanet. Seven doses of the insecticide is enough to kill a person weighing 70 kilograms. Acting on this clue the police sleuths traced the store that sold this insecticide. The CID later was also able to identify the person who had bought Lanet from this store. The suspect was monitored until he was arrested.

Q. DNA tracings is one of the new crime detection methods used worldwide. But the question is to what extent do you benefit from this method, and is it possible to set up a database to help you trace the identity of the perpetrators?

A. Abu Dhabi Police was among the forerunners and ahead of many countries in the world in using DNA tracking in crime detection and unmasking the identity of the perpetrators. We have successfully applied this new facility in disclosing and pinpointing the race of the first man who settled in the UAE some 3000 years ago. We reached this conclusion by examining the teeth of the human skeleton. The fossil appeared to be of a man. The technology will be used in formulating a unified national digital identity card.

A national unified DNA database will be set up and it will serve our objective of aiding in crime detection. The project will be a quantum leap for the UAE in terms of security. The DNA will reveal a person's identity based on the analysis of a smear of blood, saliva, or a drop of the sweat detected on the crime scene. Such a breakthrough obviously emphasises the importance of the national database for the DNA.

Q. This means that you are currently working to set up this database. So, what is the number of those listed so far, and did you really benefit from it?

A. In fact we have set the ground for this database, which will contain the information on the DNA of each and every Emarati and expatriate living in the UAE. It is now containing DNA of 2,000 people.

To give an example, there was a crime in which the perpetrator was identified through a drop of his blood. He was identified after sometime when the cops arrested him in another separate crime. A sample of his blood was lab tested, and showed that it was identical to the blood stain found at the scene of the first crime.

This signifies an important fact that there is no perfect crime, and the alleged suspect will be caught and brought to justice.

Q. Which are the agencies you cooperate with, and how do other departments in the country benefit from your expertise and resources?

A. There are several agencies in the country the department cooperates with. These include the federal ministries, local departments, courts and public prosecutions in Abu Dhabi in particular and all other emirates in general.

Q. Does the department have branches for criminal evidences?

A. Due to the importance of speeding up our move to the crime scene to lift the material traces before they get messed up or are affected by the natural factors, two forensic laboratories were set up . One is in Al Ain to render the service to the eastern region of the emirate and the other in Traif to cover the western region.

Q. What are the kinds of advanced technical equipment available in your department, and what makes them so crucial in crime detection?

A. The department has several advanced and sophisticated devices such as those detecting and analysing the DNA, microscopes, software and the energy analysis systems that run electronic microscopes.

The electronic microscope can enlarge an item more than 300,000 times its normal size. Other apparatus include those used in analysing the metal elements and equipment in which the gas and liquefied chromatograph is used. These sophisticated devices are provided with single and dual apparatus. Other equipment could test and analyse tiny and very small traces the sizes of which could reach to 1 in million of the gram.

Q. What is the role played by the Department in detecting crimes of counterfeit currencies.

A. The department succeeded in 2004 in cracking as many as 137 fake currencies cases. The devices the department has can detect any fake currency whether it is local or foreign.

Q. How many cases and crimes the department has handled over the past five years?

A. The section has handled 27,177 cases and crimes.

Q. Can you outline the history and the evolution of your department.

A. The department was, in fact, a section established in 1972. It was a small building with five rooms. It was run by three experts only. Over the past 23 years, it was gradually converted into a large department and housed in a five-storey building with more than 40 rooms. The department houses 30 specialised and dedicated laboratories manned by more than 170 personnel including expert, technicians and administrators.

Q. What is the volume of the annual budget the Abu Dhabi Police allocates for developing and updating the equipment of the department?

A. The budget is huge, and the support extended by the interior minister is unlimited. To put it right I should say the budget is estimated at Dh5 million per annum. More than Dh20 million was spent over the past five years in updating and modernising the equipment in the different laboratories of the department.

Q. What is the percentage of localisation of jobs at the department, and how do you work to increase the rate?

A. According to the localisation policy pursued by the Abu Dhabi Police General Directorate, all senior leadership posts were emiratised, and the localisation of jobs employees-wise is 65 per cent so far. The Department will increase this rate by recruiting a number of national qualified university graduates every year.

The newly employed graduates will be trained locally and abroad to impart them with skills and experience in order to cope well with their work, whether in technical or administrative fields. This is considered as part of the strategic plan and the future vision of the Abu Dhabi Police General Directorate, which hopefully will end in 2008 when emiratisation should reach 80 per cent.

Q. It has been brought to light that the Criminal Evidence Department has played a major role in detecting the use of banned steroids in camel races. What was that role?

A. The department has a dedicated and specialised laboratory for testing and detecting the steroids used in camel races. The facility is the only one worldwide that has specialised in handling these tests.

The achievements made by the lab can not be over-emphasised for it passes the efficiency tests conducted by the Professional Chemists Association every year, and has been conferred a mark of distinction. The UK-based association is the competent body in recommending and sanctioning the efficiency and competence of laboratories in the world. The laboratory has won the International Quality Certfication for detecting steroids in camel races for the fifth year running. The achievement has gained the UAE international accolade and acclaim.

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