By Pfc. Justin Naylor, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsOctober 30, 2009
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARRIOR, KIRKUK, Iraq- Using high-tech microscopes to inspect bullets fired from a suspect's weapon, or testing an old soda can for fingerprints are just the beginning of what a modern police lab can do to solve cases.
But getting the evidence isn't everything; a judge still has to be willing to use it in court.
That is why a group of 18 judges and lawyers from Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din and Erbil provinces visited the Criminal Forensics Lab in Erbil, Oct. 27, where police investigators showed them how the collection of this evidence works, and how it can be effectively used in a court.
"Judges depend on the information that comes from this lab," said Brig. Gen. Jabar Ahmed Sharif, a forensic investigator at the lab. "It is very important for judges to visit this lab, so they can see with their own eyes all the officers here and what kind of capabilities we have."
During the tour, the judges were shown the capabilities of the lab including: ballistics analysis, fingerprint comparison, microscopic testing, DNA extraction, drugs and explosives testing, and a fair number of other modern investigative techniques.
"We are the ones who can attach evidence back to a crime," said Jabar about police investigators.
By seeing how the evidence is tested and witnessing the abilities of this lab, the judges understand that they can trust the evidence that comes from here, and are more willing to accept it in a court of law, he explained.
Investigators and equipment specialists were on hand to demonstrate to the group how some of the various equipment works.
According to Maj. Robert Blackmon, a Denton, Texas, native and the staff judge advocate for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, this is one of only three labs in Iraq with this level of capability; the other two are in Basra and Baghdad.
Although Iraq has used forensic evidence in the past to a limited extent, court rooms will increasingly rely on it in the future, he explained.
Because of the limited number of these labs, about eight different provinces rely on this one alone for intensive forensics investigations, according to Maj. Gen. Dlear Ahmed, the head police investigator at the lab.
"Back in the 1990s, we could barely do fingerprinting," he said.
But because of new equipment provided by the Kurdish Regional Government and various external agencies, this laboratory has some of the most modern equipment available, explained Dlear. "It is a lot easier than it used to be to do these investigations."
With the advances of communications equipment, the investigators here are quickly able to send the results of tests and investigations to judges in different provinces, allowing them to more easily use this type of evidence in a courtroom, said Maj. Dlear.
For some of these judges, this was their first experience with many of these modern forensic technologies.
"This basically acquaints them with the advanced forensic sciences," said Maj. Blackmon.
In some of the more remote areas of the provinces, the judges have not often had access to these advanced capabilities, and this tour gives them exposure to them and increases their confidence in them, according to Blackmon.
"Before, there was a lot of evidence we could only test by eye," said Jabar. "Now we can use chemicals or microscopes. It makes it a lot easier for us, and makes it so judges can depend 100 percent on this investigation unit."
According to Jabar, this lab has already helped convict insurgents from various provinces, including Kirkuk, and helped solve numerous other cases.