Forensic science is integral for modern policing

Forensic science should be viewed as an essential tool for modern policing. Instead of relying on the old techniques of policing, the focus should be shifted towards the establishment of Forensic agencies and laboratories all across Pakistan.

Forensic science

Political parties of Pakistan like to use the word “justice” in their election slogans. They usually promise the speedy dispensation of justice as one of their key goals when it comes to governance. However, it is sad to note, that even after nearly seven decades, there hasn’t been much emphasis laid on developing a thorough and astute investigative method that can help with the dispensation of justice. Police investigations are marred by lack of evidence and that fails them in getting a conviction of the suspect, which results in an immense backlog of cold cases.

However, it would also be worthwhile to mention that not all of these failings are a result of bad investigation techniques. In some ways, the police do seem to have their hands tied. Forensic science is one such avenue. Whereas the rest of the world has developed integral forensic analysis systems, Pakistan has been found severely wanting in this regard. It is not to say that there are no institutions that have been developed for forensic analysis. But unfortunately, they are mismanaged to the point where their utility becomes negligible.

Pakistan established the National Forensic Science Agency (NFSA) in 2002 with a detailed repertoire of Digital Forensics, Crime Scene Investigations, and Trace Chemistry. The NFSA was designed to assist investigators in solving criminal cases. On top of this, the NFSA was also tasked to develop provincial forensic science laboratories and to impart training and teaching facilities throughout the country. Subsequently, two provincial forensic science institutes were established in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

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Sindh passed the Forensic Science Agency Act in 2017 but has since failed to establish any laboratories under this purview. Similarly, Balochistan passed the Balochistan Forensic Science Agency Act in 2015 but has so far been unable to establish any laboratory. It’s incorrect to say that Balochistan and Sindh do not utilize forensic science at all. They have established divisions within the respective provincial police setups for forensic analysis. However, the capacity of these divisions cannot be compared to a province-wide agency with the ability to impart training and establish additional laboratories.

As a result of this, the PFSA and the NFSA have to bear the brunt of countrywide forensic evidence analysis and DNA sampling. This results in an increased workload for the NFSA and PFSA which, in turn, has an effect on criminal investigations and it reduces the chances of successful convictions. Also, it would seem that the police usually rely on old methods of investigations, rather than turning to forensic evidence analysis. This might be a case of the large turnaround time for forensic results. However, it cannot be stressed enough that forensic evidence analysis should be one of the first courses of action in the aftermath of a crime.

Lack of a centralised DNA database of criminals

The lack of a centralized Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) database of criminals is also a cause of concern. The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) developed by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can be an example to emulate for Pakistan. By collating the various states’ DNA databases into a centralized index system, the law enforcement officials can trace DNA profiles discovered at a crime scene and help identify suspects.

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By collecting DNA profiles through crime scene evidence, the investigators then input those profiles into the CODIS to find a similar match to the DNA at the crime scene to the already established DNA profiles of various criminals in different states of the US. It is worth mentioning that the US has made it mandatory for criminals that have been charged to provide a DNA and fingerprint sample upon their incarceration. This sample is then uploaded to the CODIS and a centralized record of all criminals is maintained for their DNA profiles.

Pakistan can also opt for this model, making it mandatory for DNA and fingerprint sample collection upon incarceration and then maintain a central database. This database may be managed by the NFSA or even by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the provincial agencies can then upload their data to this database as well. This will make identifying criminals a much more efficient process, especially when it comes to repeat offenders.

There is also a need to establish a specific set of protocols for the utilization of forensic science. The recent bill that was passed called the Zainab Alert Response and Recovery Act (ZARRA), 2019, is an important Act for the recovery of missing children. However, the legislation does little to emphasize the establishment of DNA collection protocols and the expedition of forensic evidence analysis in the cases related to missing children. Through ZARRA, there could have been the establishment of even more stringent DNA analysis protocols as well, which includes the mandatory DNA testing of individuals within the proximity of the last known location of the missing child.

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In short, forensic science should be viewed as an essential tool for modern policing. Instead of relying on the old techniques of policing, the focus should be shifted towards the establishment of Forensic Analysis Agencies and forensic laboratories all across Pakistan. Through this, the already strained law enforcement agencies can have a much efficient policing infrastructure. Instead of opting for forensic evidence analysis in high profile cases only, it should be made a standard practice in Pakistan.

The author works at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute as a Consultant. He can be reached at Zshnjvd@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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