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Gleaner Editors' Forum | Forensic lag delaying some investigations

Published:Monday | September 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Gleaner Writer
Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson
Acting assistant commissioner of police in charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch, McArthur Sutherland.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Selvin Hay.

Jamaica's high crime rate is putting pressure on the island's sole state-operated forensic lab, the Institute of Forensic Science and Legal Medicine, and causing delays in some investigations, as the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is forced to prioritise the results it requests.

"The volume of input requests that go into the lab is what the challenge is. The lab actually produces at a reasonably ... high rate," Police Commissioner Major General Antony Anderson told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week at the company's North Street, Kingston, office.

"We have to get our liaison better with the lab in terms of prioritising the work they do. That's the key," added Anderson.

He noted that all the work that goes into the lab is important, but because of the high volume of cases, it has to give priority to cases based on when court dates are set and when the certificate is needed.

"There are very few places that have our volume. The volume is what challenges them to produce at a fast rate. But as it comes in, it does not mean that that's the one that is the priority one. You have to start prioritising what is needed for evidential purposes first, and further investigation first," added Anderson.

In January, then Minister of National Security Robert Montague announced that the Government had invested more than $161 million to build new facilities at the lab in an effort to speed up the turnaround time to the processing of evidence.


But Deputy Commissioner of Police Selvin Hay is convinced that the JCF would benefit greatly from a forensic facility dedicated solely to police work.

"You might have something at the lab that was there before, but with the urgency of a particular case, then you have to put that aside, and work on this one," Hay told eaner editors and reporters.

He noted that based on the present circumstances, there can be no minimum time for the lab to produce its reports.

"Those are some of the contributory factors. Why I can't say to you that, every three weeks you will get back something, because various issues contribute to the time frame," said Hay.

That was underscored by acting Assistant Commissioner McArthur Sutherland, who pointed to other factors impacting the timely production of certificates.

"These include the magnitude and complexity of the case that will require additional and extended that at the lab. You can compare a particular murder investigation, processing all of that versus marijuana, which is fairly routine. So the complexity and magnitude of the cases will also impact the timeliness of the reports," said Sutherland, who heads the Criminal Investigation Branch.

"My clear-up rate will be significantly improved if the evidence we get can make the connection. For example, if the DNA connects to the crime scene and the suspect."