FORENSIC LAB

Why days of uncatchable criminals are numbered

Many crimes go unsolved for lack of a crime laboratory, but one is now almost complete

In Summary

• The DCI has long been relying on foreign labs to conduct tests, limiting investigations

• New lab will help scientifically examine fingerprints, ballistics, cybercrime, documents

Police collect evidence forensically at a crime scene
Police collect evidence forensically at a crime scene
Image: PIXABAY

A day after the bodies of Charity Cheboi and her son Allan Kipngetich and that of Catholic Priest Kevin Kipkoech were found in Government Quarters on Nairobi’s Jogoo Road on February 23, a team of detectives arrived at the scene armed with simulation equipment.

Their main agenda was to reconstruct the crime scene to help them understand what might have happened. And days later, they concluded the case, declaring it a murder and suicide and, hence, closed for now.

The team from the Homicide Unit at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations deployed part of equipment recently acquired to help in investigations on various crimes in the country.

That is the new norm to enable them solve every crime committed scientifically, where possible.

This has been facilitated by the construction and equipping of the Forensic Laboratory at the DCI headquarters, Nairobi.

The laboratory is almost 98 per cent complete and plans are to have President Uhuru Kenyatta officially open it.

Insiders say the exercise is being supervised by the DCI George Kinoti and senior National Intelligence Service officials led by the director general Philip Kameru.

“They know the importance of a forensic laboratory and that is why the construction and equipping is being done discreetly,” said an insider aware of the developments.

DCI boss George Kinoti looks on as German Deputy Ambassador Thomas Wimmer donates forensic tools and equipment received by ICT CS Joe Mucheru at the DCI Offices on March 4
DCI boss George Kinoti looks on as German Deputy Ambassador Thomas Wimmer donates forensic tools and equipment received by ICT CS Joe Mucheru at the DCI Offices on March 4
Image: CHARLENE MALWA
It has led to the expeditious resolution of complex crimes such as homicides and kidnappings like we are recently witnessing in the country
Interior CS Fred Matiang’i

WELL EQUIPPED

The workings of the laboratory came to light on March 4, when the German government donated Sh27 million equipment to the DCI to enhance the operations.

ICT CS Joe Mucheru received part of the equipment and read a statement on behalf of his Interior counterpart Fred Matiang’i, saying the developments are a step forward in the fight against crime.

Matiang’i said the embassy has been helping police in developing their human resource capacity to handle various kinds of crimes, including those that are complex in nature.

He said the embassy has supported the service in acquiring modern tools of trade that have been instrumental in assisting them to deliver on their mandate.

“The forensics unit has been the biggest beneficiary through the provision of specialised scientific equipment used in gathering and consolidating crucial evidence required to nail suspects and consolidate watertight cases,” he said.

Apart from the laboratory, the DCI’s Anti-Terrorism Police Unit has also benefited through the enhancement of five vehicles and 10 motorcycles. The crime scene and homicide personnel have also been trained locally and abroad in their area of specialisation.

“It has also led to the expeditious resolution of complex crimes such as homicides and kidnappings like we are recently witnessing in the country,” Matiang’i said.

The donated equipment included specialised crime scene investigations kits, photography and videography cameras with accessories.

Crime scene simulation rooms have been developed at the National Police Service Training College, Main Campus in Kiganjo, at the DCI Academy and another one at DCI headquarters, Kiambu Road.

At the Administration Police Service’s training colleges, the embassy and other development partners have installed 3D shooting ranges to sharpen the personnel’s shooting skills.

The Germans are also buying thousands of laptops for the police to be used in reporting crimes. This follows a move by the NPS to digitise the Occurrence Book.

The OB is the one that contains all crimes reported on a daily basis in the country and will now be monitored and followed up by supervisors at various levels.

A crime research expert at the National Police Service Laboratory
A crime research expert at the National Police Service Laboratory
Image: FILE

LAB SECTIONS

At the laboratory, there are different sections, including fingerprints, ballistics, cybercrime, document examination, economic crimes, toxicology, biological and chemistry sections.

One of the biggest sections there will be Digital Forensic Laboratory, whose overall function will be to identify, seize, acquire and analyse all electronic devices related to all cyber-enabled offences reported. This is so as to collect digital evidence that will be presented in a court of law for prosecution.

The DFL is divided into subunits, each outlining specific roles and responsibilities of the Digital Forensics Analysts.

Computer Forensics

This deals with analysis of computer hard drives (workstations, servers, laptops, and so on). With the aim of looking for everything from ex-filtration of data to retrieving data that is deleted or otherwise destroyed by a user.

Mobile Device Forensics

This deals with forensic analysis of smartphones, tablets and other portable devices, retrieval of deleted text messages, call logs, documents, mobile browser history, etc. Retrieval of data from GPS units, phone system, iPod, mp3 players, USB sticks and flash drives, SD cards, among others.

Malware Analysis

This deals with the study of how malware functions and about the possible outcomes of infection of a given specific malware.

It seeks to find any suspicious malware activity in a network, identify the source and type of malware and know what would be the impact it might have in the organisation or environment affected.

They perform an intense malware analysis to comprehend the indicators and signs of compromise of a system when a need arises.

Computer Incidents Response Team

The team here responds to cybersecurity incidents when they occur. Key responsibilities of a CIRT team include investigating and analysing security breaches and intrusion incidents, managing internal communications and updates during or immediately after incidents and mitigating incidents.

Other duties include recommending technology, policy and training changes after cybersecurity incidents and responding to attacks that employ brute force methods to compromise, degrade, or destroy systems, networks, or services.

Network Forensics

It deals with e-mail and social media investigations, tracking email or authenticating that messages are not tampered with or forged, and recovering deleted messages from servers, laptops, desktops, websites, and so on. It also deals with database forensics and eDiscovery, examination and recovery of data from mainframe and networked database systems.

Other functions include forensic examination of computer and mobile phones, maintenance of lab processes of acquisition, archival and analysis, maintenance of inventories of digital evidence as per standards/ISO, analysis of deleted and active files and location and analysis of data in ambient data sources.

The personnel there also does recovery of deleted or encrypted data/emails, SMS, MMS, videos, Internet sites, uncovering passwords, forensic SIM card analysis, extraction of data from mobile phones and presentation of expert forensic evidence in court.

A suspect is arrested
A suspect is arrested
Image: PEXELS

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Officials say the most important aspect of criminal justice is forensic science. This is the practice of scientifically examining physical evidence collected from the scene of a crime or a person of interest in a crime.

For instance, when human remains are found dumped, say, in a river and have decayed to the point they cannot be recognised, what happens?

According to experts, forensic scientists use DNA from the body, do dental checks and even study the skeletal structure to determine who the person was.

It can also help in identifying the gender as well as the cause of death and whether foul play was involved.

Two of the most common crimes determined in forensic science laboratories are drug-related and sex crimes.

It is in the crime laboratory that the chemical makeup of an unidentified substance recovered from a suspect is determined to be cocaine, marijuana or other controlled substances.

This can be used as evidence in court to prove a person was in possession of illegal drugs.

Kinoti said the construction is 98 per cent complete and its inauguration will be in due course.

The services will be devolved to regions to enhance delivery. This means the laboratory will be put into use to solve many unsolved cases, including murder, robbery with violence, rape and housebreaking.

Many crimes go unsolved because police lack a laboratory to help them address the cases.

The service has been relying on foreign laboratories to conduct tests for evidence on issues under probe. For instance, toxicological tests are at times done either in South Africa or in Europe.

According to a strategic plan launched recently, the DCI plans to spend Sh7.6 billion in mobilising operations of the forensic laboratory.

The money is part of the Sh38.5 billion the inspectorate earmarks for revamping its operations the next three years.

The plan says the focus will be on four main areas, including building institutional capacity, strengthening crime management, cooperating locally and internationally and establishing robust processes and systems.

Kinoti said the identified strategies will be rolled out to the lowest commands, where specific plans will be developed.

"The plan will be reviewed from time to time with a view to making it dynamic, relevant and more client-focused," he said.

According to the plan, Sh20 million will be used to provide guidance and counselling services and Sh4 billion in the acquisition of modern security equipment and ICT solutions.

The process of mainstreaming human rights issues in the operations and planning will take Sh28 million, while gender and disability issues will be addressed with Sh8.4 million each in the period.

Development of the DCI website and Internet will take Sh22 million, while implementation of a unified communication system, command and control centre at the inspectorate will take Sh20 million.

The plan says there is high staff turnover, inadequate resources, limitations in the priorities of development partners, inadequate investigations capacity, lack of a centralised crime and criminals' data, inadequate number of professionals in forensics, weak organisational culture, non-adherence to professional ethics and rapid development of ICTs and persistent cyber threats, which have been identified as the main threats.

The money to be used in the plan will be realised from the government and other development partners.

Edited by T Jalio