Ecuadorian National Police open new lab to combat Sinaloa Cartel and Los Rastrojos
By Dialogo February 28, 2014
Ecuador’s National Police recently inaugurated a new crime lab in Quito which will allow investigators to use the latest in technology to solve crimes.
The new lab, which was inaugurated on Jan. 8, 2014, provides police the ability to quickly look up fingerprints, conduct DNA tests, and to conduct toxicology tests on homicide victims, to determine if they ingested any drugs before being killed.
The new lab will help make investigations and the criminal justice system more efficient and effective, said Juan Vizueta, professor of criminal law at the Catholic University of Guayaquil.
“With this lab, both police and Ecuadorian courts can rely on investigations conducted in one specialized center,” Vizueta said. “Previously, medical evidence was sent to state medical institutions whose focus was to address public health and not criminal investigation.”
“With this new laboratory, investigations will go from a traditional approach to a technical and scientific one where evidence can be processed and the respective chains of custody can be maintained,” Vizueta said.
The new lab cost more than $11 million (USD) and employs about 340 people, including uniformed police and civilian analysts.
The opening of the laboratory coincides with a sweeping new criminal law the Ecuadorean Assembly approved in December 2013. The legislation codifies new criminal offenses, including femicide, ethnocide, torture, crimes against nature, and unjustified private gain.
The legislation is scheduled to take effect in June 2014, or 180 days after publication.
Authorities plan to build more labs
Authorities are building another crime lab in Guayaquil, which is Ecuador’s most populous city, with 2.3 million residents. Once it is completed, the lab in Guayaquil will help police in that city conduct better investigations, Vizueta said. Officials should continue building such labs throughout the country, he said.
“Now what remains is to build more crime laboratories in the country, so that investigations are prompt,” Vizueta said. “The proximity of the lab is important when working with evidence such as fingerprints, which need to be investigated expeditiously before they fade or become contaminated.”
The new labs are an important tool in Ecuador’s ongoing fight against organized crime groups, Interior Minister José Serrano said.
“This new infrastructure provides scientific support for direct and transparent confrontation against criminal violence and impunity,” Serrano said during the ceremony inaugurating the new crime lab.
In 2013, Ecuadorean security forces seized more than 56 tons of drugs, authorities said.
Fighting organized crime
Ecuadorian authorities are fighting transnational criminal organizations which are using the country as a transshipment point for illegal drugs.
The Sinaloa Cartel is largest of the transnational criminal organizations which operate in Ecuador. On Feb. 22, 2014, Mexican security forces captured the cartel’s kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, in Mazatlan. Two other major Colombia drug trafficking groups, Los Rastrojos and Los Urabeños, also operate in Ecuador.
Security forces in Ecuador and other countries have scored important successes against Ecuadorean organized crime operatives in recent years:
• In April 2012, Ecuadorean National Police captured César Demar Vernaza Quiñónez, the leader of a gang known as “The Courageous.” He is known as “The Entrepreneur.” His gang worked for El Chapo in Ecuador, guarding large shipments of drugs. In February 2013, The Entreprenuer and 18 other inmates escaped from a prison in Guayaquil. Colombian security forces captured The Entrepreneur in April 2013. He was extradited to Ecuador, where he is facing drug trafficking charges.
• In June 2012, Ecuadorean security forces seized a submarine that was under construction, a light plane, a speedboat, and a ton of cocaine. Drug traffickers were using light plane and speedboat to transport cocaine, and the submarine was going to be used for the same purpose, said Richard Camacho Zeas, an Ecuadorean security analyst.
• In October 2013, Ecuadorean National Police captured 10 suspected members of Los Urabeños. Some of the suspects were Ecuadorean nationals who were working with the Colombian drug trafficking group, authorities said.
New lab has innovative technology
The new lab, located inside a seven-story building, is equipped with state of the art technology, authorities said. It is one of the most advanced forensics labs in Latin America.
The new lab includes automated systems to quickly identify fingerprints and voices; a firearms examinations system, which will allow investigators to match fired bullets with specific weapons; and advanced cameras which will allow police to take high-quality photos at crime scenes.
By applying toxicology methods, investigators can analyze the types of drugs, poisons, and substances that cannot be identified in trace amounts.
The lab has a forensic anthropology division. Forensic anthropologists identify people by examining human remains and DNA. By examining flesh and bones, forensic anthropologists can also determine the cause of death.
Police will also store evidence at the crime lab. Each piece of evidence is being carefully inventoried, authorities said. Crime lab officials are keeping track of the delivery and removal of evidence, to assure it is reliable for use in trials and court hearings.
A reduction in violence
The new lab could help security forces build upon the success they have had in recent years in reducing violence in Ecuador.
Killings in Ecuador declined by 27 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the National Police.
In 2008, Ecuador had 2,638 homicides, with 21 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2012, the country recorded 1,884 homicides. It was the lowest number of homicides in Ecuador since 2000.
New police vehicles
The government of Ecuador recently also issued eight new motorcycles to the National Police to support investigations and improve public safety. System for evidence Among the improvements for criminal investigation is the implementation of a new system for evidence.
This system enables you to keep an inventory of the evidence that goes in and out of the laboratories, as well as a record of the people who deliver and remove evidence. The inventory process is automatic by using a chip for each piece of evidence. This new system for evidence will enable access to more reliable and safe information related to the evidence collected at the scene, Moreno said.
Over US$ 11 million was invested to develop the lab, which will employ about 340 people including civilians and uniformed personnel.