PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Brazil is racing against the clock to modernize its forensic institutes.
Amid federal and state investments aimed at providing laboratories with the latest equipment, Brazil is expected to make drastic improvements by 2012.
“We need to modernize these institutes because criminal activity is evolving,” says Gustavo Dalton, president of the Brasília Association of Criminal Forensics. “We’re still very far behind in comparison to the forensic investigations being carried out in the Northern Hemisphere. But federal investments are being made and are expected to increase next year.”
The northern and northeastern regions of Brazil, which lag behind the rest of the nation in terms of forensic resources, have started receiving investments so they can conduct investigations on the same level as the rest of the country.
“There is no state in Brazil that is at the forefront in terms of all of the different types of forensic labs,”
In the state of Acre, the installation of one of the most modern forensic DNA analysis labs in northern Brazil represents the culmination of a series of investments made to improve the resources available to local police. The strategy includes personnel training, as well as improvements in infrastructure and the management of police units.
The state, which occupies a strategic geographic location in the fight against border crimes, has made advances in criminal forensics with the introduction of federal and state funds totaling about R$1 million (US$630,000).
The two most important pieces of laboratory equipment – the thermal cycler, which amplifies DNA, and the sequencer, which carries out the reading – already have arrived from the United States at a cost of R$600,000 (US$375,000).
Officers are being trained in how to operate the thermal cycler and the sequencer. Three specialists will work exclusively in the laboratory during the first phase.
“We’re improving the science used by the Acre Civil Police,” says Emylson Farias, the institution’s secretary. “We have to move beyond empiricism and begin to treat forensic investigation like the science that it is.”
Law enforcement agents are able to conduct rape and kidnapping investigations because of advancements in DNA analysis.
In the past, the Acre police needed to send evidence to other states to be tested – a process that took up to six months.
But the process will need just 15 days to complete once the laboratory in Acre is operational at the end of July.
The Ministry of Justice has provided 10 suitcases filled with equipment to gather forensic evidence to law enforcement officials in Acre.
“Our mission is to promote agile, impartial and intelligent investigations,” Farias says. “We don’t want to do away with forensic investigations but instead make sure that they’re robust enough to allow the judge to confidently issue a ruling.”
The capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Recife, is home to laboratories specializing in biological, physical, chemical and ballistics tests, which help solve crimes.
But the goal is to move these laboratories inland.
“We’re going to build a complex in Caruaru, which will provide laboratories for identification, forensics and criminal investigations,” says Luiz Carlos Soares da Silva, who manages the Pernambuco Institute of Criminology. “The bids have gone out and work is expected to begin in July.”
The same is expected in the city of Petrolina, where decentralization has become necessary because the laboratories in Recife are overloaded, Silva says.
Currently, 20,000 forensic investigations are being conducted in the state of Pernambuco.
State-of-the-art cameras were recently purchased, as were 40 suitcases containing computers, cameras, GPS equipment and other tools for forensic investigators to use in the field.
But since Pernambuco lacks a laboratory for conducting DNA analysis, evidence still must be sent to Brasília or Paraíba.
This type of exchange is common, says Dalton.
he says. “As a result, this exchange of experiences is very important.”