While I am not extremely well versed on crime lab and medical examiner work, I do know that they usually come in a package of one sort or another. Many times, [the crime lab] falls under the medical examiner or coroner; or, in one case, an independent non-profit organization. This varies by location, as well as size and history.
On January 24 I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon at which the new Guam medical examiner, Dr. Jeffery Nine, was the guest speaker. After the luncheon we had the opportunity to chat and from that discussion I believe we are in good hands.
Then on January 25, I was given the opportunity to attend the long-awaited opening of Guam’s new DNA lab, which combines the Crime Lab & DNA lab under one umbrella at Guam Police Department.
Though not truly functional as of yet, it can be a tremendous step forward for our island and region when it comes to the accurate and more rapid resolution of crimes. Now we need a senior DNA specialist and a number-two person who can learn from their senior counterpart.
While such talented people do exist, much like our new medical examiner, they are not plentiful in numbers; so, finding a senior properly-qualified DNA analyst may prove to be a challenge. Remember it did take three years to find our new M.E.
Guam has truly been blessed as even after a three year wait for the arrival of our island’s certified medical examiner, the official opening of the new DNA annex of the Guam Crime Laboratory along with the recent accomplishment and receipt for our Crime Laboratories International Accreditation in the areas of finger printing, drug analysis and firearms/ballistics all bode well for the island and the region.
While more challenges certainly lay ahead for this area, we will soon have the critical pieces in place to better solve crimes against not only our citizens but eventually citizens of Micronesia as a whole.
These three organizations in my mind fall under the heading of “ultimate independent truth seekers” as they work to find the evidence required to stand up in court that will place “truth” at the center of the conclusion as to the who, what, where, when, why and how something has happened. And, who was ultimately responsible.
They do not exist to take sides but rather simply get to the truth.
From a trust in evidence processing, control, the lead controlling entity should not fall under the prosecutorial, investigatory or judicial branches in this process.
The judiciary already funds the maintenance of the existing crime lab and also funds indigent defense expenses. It may well be better to have an independent, more potentially unbiased connection – possibly a logical connection for our M.E. and Crime Lab – a triple play as an independent crime lab.
Another area that needs to be addressed while on this subject is the collection and transportation of human remains. For far too many years the Guam Fire Department has shouldered this responsibility and that is another area that really needs to change.
An independent forensic science center should have the funding and ability to contract for the recovery and transportation of any human remains that would be involved in any questionable or criminal cases; if for no other reason than the protection and continuity of evidence so there can be no break in that critical chain.
Now is the time for the members of our legislature to work with the governor, courts, police, crime laboratory leaders and our new M.E. to bring this team together for the betterment of Guam and the region.
As an example, the following is the mission statement for the Houston Forensic Science Center, Inc.
Houston Forensic Science Center, Inc. (HFSC or the Corporation) is a Texas local government corporation created by the City to operate an independent center providing accurate and timely analysis of forensic evidence and related services. On April 3, 2014, HFSC assumed control of and responsibility for the HPD Crime Lab and certain other forensic operations of the Houston Police Department. To accomplish the said goal, the Corporation is authorized to hire employees; to contract for facilities, equipment, and services; to accept funds and property appropriated by the City, non-profit and business entities, and individuals; and generally, to engage in lawful activities necessary to accomplish the purpose for which HFSC was created.
- Board Website
- Legal Authority
City of Houston Resolution No. 2012-17 and legal authorities cited therein. http://www.houstonforensicscience.org/resources/$1$3.d0uqmU$cL.w2mdGZv91a6asV.PU.pdf
- General Powers
The Corporation shall be incorporated to aid and to act on behalf of the City to accomplish a governmental purpose of the City; namely, to operate an independent center (the “Houston Forensic Science Center” or the “Center”) to provide accurate and timely analysis of forensic evidence and related services. On April 3, 2014, HFSC assumed control of and responsibility for the HPD Crime Lab and certain other forensic operations of the Houston Police Department. To accomplish the said goal, the Corporation is authorized to hire employees; to contract for facilities, equipment, and services; to accept funds and property appropriated by the City, non-profit and business entities, and individuals; and generally, to engage in lawful activities necessary to accomplish the purpose for which HFSC was created.”
Please take a moment and look at this very successful crime fighting element in the city of Houston, Texas.
We have another opportunity staring us in the face to make Guam even greater.
Lee P. Webber is a businessman and civic advocate, the former publisher of the Pacific Daily News, a former president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, and a former director of operations for USA Today International/Asia