U.S. Donates Technology for Criminal Investigations in Guatemala
By Jennyfer Hernández/Diálogo August 02, 2016The U.S. Department of State’s Regional Security Initiative and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs donated advanced technology to aid the Criminal Investigation Bureau (SGIC, for its Spanish acronym) of Guatemala’s National Civil Police (PNC) in the effective identification and detention of suspects in a matter of seconds. The 25 mobile biometric system units, known as the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), are able to identify criminals by analyzing fingerprints, hand silhouettes, and facial recognition almost immediately. This technology allows the identification process to be carried out in a matter of 50 seconds, explained SGIC Assistant Director Stu Velasco. The equipment is connected to the PNC Data Center that verifies the existence of a criminal background or a police record through fingerprint identification. The system currently has 200,000 records. These devices, featuring the latest technology, will be distributed beginning in July to the country’s 28 police stations. Priority will be given to the departments of Guatemala, Petén, Huehuetenango, Zacapa, Chiquimula, and Suchitepéquez, due to the high crime rate in those districts, Velasco said. Guarding the Borders Each device is able to verify a suspect’s identity and access all of the individual’s information through the Data Center at Guatemala’s National Registry of Persons.“With these devices, we gain accurate information in less than 30 seconds about any suspect with an outstanding arrest warrant, what crime he committed, what court issued the warrant, and his criminal record. It’s an advance and an evolution in criminology which gives us a great deal of satisfaction,” Velasco said. The grant was configured into the PNC’s Department of Transit in order to allow authorities to identify a suspect through their driver’s license. This speeds up the investigation process that used to take four to six hours. Forty percent of the biometric machines are already fully programmed, and authorities were scheduled to begin using them at the borders in July during the arrival of deportees. An additional machine will be installed at Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport. AFIS in Action During the operation known as “Southern Rescue,” 72 Guatemalan suspects involved in extortion were identified in less than 50 seconds using the AFIS devices. Questions regarding their criminal ties, which the Attorney General and the PNC had been investigating for a year, were cleared up. In the course of the large-scale national operation, authorities conducted 126 raids and captured 72 people, three of them minors, 167 bags of marijuana, seven firearms, two grenades, 135 cellular phones, five satellite phones, and 15,000 quetzales (US$1,885). Authorities conducted the raids in the southern departments of Guatemala: Escuintla, Santa Rosa, and the capital, Guatemala City. All of the detainees underwent the fingerprint identification process set up at the Justice Administration Center, located in the city’s Zone 6. Guatemala's Army played an important role during the raids, because most seizures were made in areas of the capital with high crime rate, such as zones 18, 3, 7, and Villa Nueva. The presence of the 16 dogs that comprise the Canine Military Unit was crucial to the arrest of the 72 suspects, said Ronaldo Velasquez, commander of the First Brigade Military, Honor Guard. Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre, noted that the operation also had the support of a military expert who used a drone to fly over the areas. This allowed authorities to control locations and suspects who attempted to flee at the time of their capture. However, military intelligence used was key to providing their immediate location. One of those included providing the location of weapons hidden in the suburb of Villalobos 2, in the municipality of Villa Nueva. The drone found its location. The Military deployed armored vehicles had an average of 100 soldiers, an expert on military technology, and 16 dogs from the Canine Unit. Fingerprint experts were in charge of using the biometric systems, and a public defender was appointed to further process the detainees, according PNC Director Nery Ramos as quoted in Prensa Libre. The 72 alleged extortionists are currently waiting to enter their first pleas in court. Work Applauded The joint work should be applauded, said Attorney General spokesperson Julia Barrera. “Without the inter-institutional aid and the equipment provided, it would not have been possible to streamline this process, which would have been quite lengthy because of the number of persons captured,” Barrera said. The biometric system sped up the process of identifying all of the detainees, who were brought before a judge in record time, the spokesperson added. “Meeting the established time periods in a large-scale operation is important for everyone and, without question, the technology played an important part in this case and will help us in many more,” Barrera concluded.