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DNA Evidence Is Next Frontier for Cambodia’s Crime Scene Investigators

It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that in time even the smallest countries, states and communities will have DNA evidence as a major part of solving crime. Even Cambodia is getting in on it! Along with the importance of the DNA evidence, the DNA database and the sensitivity of the lab equipment is also HOW it is collected. By far the most advanced collection method compared to the other more traditional methods is the M-Vac System. In time, wet-vacuum sampling, aka M-Vacing, will be as commonplace in law enforcement and forensic science as swabbing! ‪#‎DNA‬ ‪#‎police‬ ‪#‎Cambodia‬ ‪#‎MVac‬ ‪#‎investigation‬ ‪#‎evidence‬ ‪#‎crime‬ ‪#‎detective‬

DNA Evidence Is Next Frontier for Cambodia’s Crime Scene Investigators

Khmer Times/Jonathan Cox and Chea Vannak
Tuesday, 12 January 2016

 

DNA analysis has long been key to criminal investigations in the west, but until now it has not been available to Cambodian police. Now, a lower price tag for DNA analysis equipment has made it possible for the government to invest in this technology, said Minister of Justice Ang Vang Vathana yesterday.
At a conference yesterday hosted by the Child Protection Unit (CPU), Mr. Vathana said DNA evidence could be the future of Cambodian criminal investigations. “DNA analysis is an important modern technology,” he said, “It provides hard evidence for the court to judge accurately in criminal cases. Without it, some court procedures in Cambodia cannot be resolved accurately.”
“If we fully respect children’s rights, we have to find definite evidence so that we can protect children,” Mr. Vathana said.
Using a sample of blood, skin cells, sperm, or saliva, DNA tests can establish whether a suspect was at the scene of a crime. But even without the use of DNA evidence, the Cambodian police’s evidence-gathering techniques have seen dramatic improvements in the last two years.
Crime scene investigations used to be haphazard, with little evidence being gathered, according to James McCabe, the CPU’s Director of Operations. “The first rape case I dealt with [in Cambodia], the brief consisted of just two photos: a photo of the victim and a photo of the suspect,” he said.
Since it was started by the Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) in 2013, the CPU has helped the Cambodian national police improve its crime scene investigations. Every year the CPU offers courses on crime scene management to police, and CPU officers help police manage crime scenes in serious cases, such as murder, attempted murder, or rape.
“We have focused heavily on crime scene investigations and investigators,” said Mr. McCabe. Last year the CPU investigated 292 crimes against children, including 30 homicides, 201 rapes, more than 20 attempted rapes.
Mr. McCabe said that good police work doesn’t always require high-tech equipment. To help improve data collection, the CPU has also given police officers cameras, so that the crime scene officers can photograph the scene. “These aren’t fancy, 15 megapixel SLRs [cameras],” said Mr. McCabe. “These are simple, second-hand cameras, but they still make a difference.”
The work by the national police, combined with help from CPU, has led to dramatic improvements in crime scene management. Police document everything around the crime scene, taking photos of small evidence markers placed next to specks of blood or other clues. These photos can then be used in court.
“The commitment of the Cambodian national police to catching the killers is to be commended,” Mr. McCabe said.
Not only does better evidence-gathering help bring criminals to justice, it can also protect young victims from some of the pain of reliving a traumatic attack when they testify in court. “The collection of more evidence alleviates the burden on a child to give evidence,” said Mr. McCabe.
Rosslyn Warren, a crown prosecutor from New Zealand, added that forcing children to testify in court can be traumatic.
“We’re obliged to ensure to the extent possible that they’re not re-traumatized by the court system,” she said, “by being subjected to inappropriate questioning and attacks.” Better evidence-gathering means fewer children have to go through this trauma.
Despite the possibilities offered by DNA evidence, Mr. McCabe emphasized that it is not a magic bullet to finding a suspect innocent or guilty.

“DNA is not the end-all be-all,” he said. “Just because you have DNA doesn’t mean that you can stop investigating. In a lot of cases, we don’t even use the DNA because you’ll have other substantive pieces of evidence.”
As a last resort, the CPU has sent DNA samples to Vietnam for analysis when no other evidence was available. Last year, just two samples were sent for analysis. One of them provided a crucial piece of evidence, showing that the blood found at the scene of the crime did not belong to the suspect.
For a cash-strapped Cambodian police force, DNA analysis can seem expensive. Analysis of just two DNA samples (to see if DNA from the crime scene matches the suspect’s DNA) costs roughly $450 if done by a private firm, Mr. McCabe said. The government could do it in-country for cheaper, at roughly $150 for two samples.
While DNA analysis may be pricey, Salvatore Vasta, a Federal Circuit Court judge from Queensland, Australia, said it is worth the investment. “DNA identification doesn’t just help at the crime scene, it can also help us with identification of a corpse,” he said. “It’s also a good way of determining paternity. There are many more advantages than just criminal justice…advantages that are well worth government investment.”
DNA, with its talk of alleles and loci, may seem complicated, but its goal is simple: finding criminals. Scott Neeson, director of the CCF, said that the police’s better evidence-gathering has already decreased the number of child abuse cases in the country.
“There’s no longer a sense of impunity,” he said. “If you commit a crime, you’ll be arrested, so that sense of impunity is gone.”

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