Forensics: The need for a criminal database

By Avril Eyewu-Edero

Nigeria is the most populous African nation with about 180million people. With this figure comes a huge amount of crime, because people are from different social, religious and financial backgrounds.

A huge population makes tracking criminals more difficult and therefore the whole concept of creating a criminal database is essential to aid the criminal justice system.

A criminal database keeps a record of a person’s identity profile such as DNA profile or Fingerprint record. This database can be used to check if a stored profile matches the perpetrator of a crime whose DNA or fingerprint was found at a crime scene.

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Now the question is, how do you populate a criminal database?

Different countries have different means of populating their criminal database. In the United Kingdom for example, they have the National DNA Database (NDNAD), which was created in 1995.

The database is populated by collecting DNA samples and retain the profile compulsorily if the person is convicted of a recordable crime, those not charged or found guilty are not added to the database.

This is a similar pattern and globally acceptable ethical and legal method of populating criminal databases in many countries.

I often hear a lot of people here in Nigeria saying why can’t we use the BVN, Passport and national identity record to populate a Criminal database. Ethically, this is wrong.

It is expected that an individual’s DNA or fingerprint profile should be added to a criminal database only if they have committed a crime. I personally wouldn’t want my profile on a criminal database, if I haven’t committed any crime.

I understand that it can spring up a moral confusion as people expect that a criminal shouldn’t be spared and the safest way for everyone is to transfer fingerprints record to a criminal database for an easy conviction.

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And it feels right thinking you can just get a person’s fingerprint or DNA record from other domains and convict them with this, but with a good lawyer and a judge grounded in Forensics, this wouldn’t be a tenable evidence in court as it is an invasion of privacy of their confidential record unrelated to a crime incident.

The common fingerprint database system used globally is called the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) which uses digital technology to obtain, store and analyze fingerprint data.

So, when someone has been arrested and convicted of any offense, their fingerprint could be collected and added to the AFIS. Also, fingerprints collected from a crime scene and unmatched to any individual could also be collected and added in anticipation that the perpetrator’s fingerprint would end up on the AFIS in an unrelated case, and this can be used to link them to the crime.

It is always best to develop a database using a legal means such as obtaining the sample for minimal crimes, to avoid legal issues that would render the evidence inadmissible and to avoid ethical and human rights issues.

A criminal database is not only useful in solving crimes that have just happened but can be used to solve cold cases. Cold cases are crimes that occurred previously, but the perpetrator wasn’t identified.

Adding the perpetrator to the database in an unrelated case can lead to an unexpected match between the perpetrator’s DNA profile and DNA profile obtained from the crime scene, this is called a cold hit.

If we want a database in Nigeria, we have to start now, so that in the next 20 years, we will have a moderately populated database.

Developed countries like the United Kingdom are still building their database, as of 2016, they had just 5.86million people out of over 66 million of their citizens on their DNA database.

Having this structure in place is an expensive process as forensics is not cheap, I mean, those of us in the department of Forensic science in the University I attended, London South Bank University paid a little more school fees because of the forensic supplies we had to use but Lagos state has started a precedent by establishing a DNA laboratory, the next good step would be to create a law that would aid the collection of DNA samples from convicted criminals and add them to the database or any other means of collection they find appropriate, but this needs to be incorporated in the law.

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The law enforcement then needs to be trained on crime scene management and evidence collection. Then the center for the Database can be set up to work in liaison with the police and the Laboratory. Then the process begins.

It sounds cumbersome, but it really isn’t, the only expensive part of the process is the DNA analysis. A fingerprint database is less expensive but just as useful.

With the right political will, this can be obtainable to make the criminal justice system more robust and effective.

vanguard

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