How to catch a criminal through DNA

June 15th, 2016

The following is the second part of an exclusive series of articles published by the Cape Argus on the Plattekloof Forensic Science Laboratory in the Western Cape.

Writer Lance Witten has his cheek swabbed for DNA before touring the Plattekloof Forensic Science Laboratory which deals with a variety of forensic disciplines and evidence for crime and court cases. Picture: Tracey Adams. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

Cape Town – The gleaming floors of the Police Forensics Laboratory reflect the light from the energy-saving intelligent fluorescent lighting above.

Colonel Thembela Lamani, head of the Biology unit, leads the Cape Argus team through the silent halls of strictly secured offices and laboratories in the Plattekloof facility.

Inside the glass-walled labs, scrubbed technicians busy themselves with some of the most sensitive work the Cape Town facility handles.

Cross contamination is a constant risk and needs to be mitigated as stringently as possible.

To continue reading the full article, please click here.

SOURCE: This article was first published online by IOL News on the 14th of June 2016

Inside the SAPS’ Forensics Lab

June 14th, 2016

The following is the first part of an exclusive series of articles published by the Cape Argus on the Plattekloof Forensic Science Laboratory in the Western Cape.

The Forensic Science Laboratory in Plattekloof, which deals with a variety of forensic disciplines and evidence for crime and court cases. Picture: Tracey Adams. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

Cape Town – The Western Cape has one of the most advanced police forensic laboratories in the country, purpose-built and designed with the utmost security and fidelity principles in mind.

How advanced? The facility in Plattekloof, is about 28 000m² of floor space housing about 500 staff members – two-thirds of whom are forensic scientists – working in laboratories containing pieces of equipment valued at up to R4 million, each capable of accurately analysing evidence, be it DNA, bullet casings and cartridges, documents, signatures or drugs and alcohol.

The Police Forensic Laboratory was built at an estimated cost of R600m and doesn’t fit the mould of traditional government buildings, which are often retrofitted to suit the purpose of the departments they house.

Brigadier Deon Meintjes, who runs the facility, explains that the lab was built by the Department of Public Works to the unit’s requirements and was designed without too much external input or influence from other labs around the world.

“We designed and built it to suit our needs.

“You’ll notice all of the various departments have the same kind of layout; the offices are situated around the outskirts of a central core – the labs. This is so that all of the fitments run centrally, from the Nederman arms (adjustable ventilation ducts to keep harmful or toxic fumes away from lab technicians), to the water and gas pipes and the rail cart system.”

To continue reading the full article, please click here.

SOURCE: This article was first published online by IOL News on the 13th of June 2016

9th Annual Women in Law Enforcement Conference

May 2nd, 2016

In the quest to discuss creative strategies in combating crime, ITC’s 9th Annual Leadership Development for Women in Law Enforcement conference (25 – 27 May 2016) will bring law enforcement entities together with the aim of strengthening collaboration and partnerships at all levels of enforcement, bringing together various enforcement directives in the quest to empower, inspire and awaken the spirit to leadership.

Both local and international speakers will boost exceptional individuals that have through their hard work and determination, put fellow women law enforcers on the global map and have proven that it is possible to lead, despite gender challenges.

The annual ITC conference also includes an awards ceremony on day two and is a platform where women law enforcers are recognised for their contribution to enforcement.

Some confirmed speakers include:

  • Major General Liziwe Ntshinga

Provincial Head: Directorate For Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) Free State
SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE

  • Annalene Marais

Deputy Chief of Police: Operations
CAPE TOWN METROPOLITAN  POLICE DEPARTMENT

  • Ursula Mc’Crystal

Head : Anti Money Laundering Surveillance
STANDARD BANK OF SOUTH AFRICA

  • Captain Elmarie Myburgh

Investigative Psychology Section: CR & CSM
SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE

  • Lieutenant  Colonel Heila Niemand

Provincial Unit Commander Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offence (FCS)
SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE

INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE:

  • Agent Valerie Parlave

Executive Assistant Director
FEDERAL BEREAU OF INVESTIGATION WASHINGTON

KEY STRATEGIES TO BE DISCUSSED:

  • Creating a culture of quality service delivery in law enforcement
  • Using various leadership traits as a woman in law enforcement
  • Looking at the role of law enforcement in addressing the protection of women and children
  • Advancing your management capacitation through stronger mentorship
  • Excelling as a woman law enforcer by utilising Emotional Intelligence to your benefit
  • Pursuing a career based on your passion to make a difference
  • Encouraging continuous education for women within law enforcement
  • Strengthening the fight against Cyber Crimes
  • Addressing physical and psychological challenges faced by women in policing
  • Women in law enforcement complementing instead of competing
  • Equipping yourself and your team with the right tools to execute your directive

To learn more about the conference please visit: http://www.intelligencetransferc.co.za/conferences/9th-annual-leadership-for-women-in-law-enforcement/

Thanks from Kuils River CPF

April 21st, 2016

We recently received a wonderful thank you email from the Kuils River CPF following a DNA and crime scene awareness workshop we presented for them on the 12th of March 2016 that we wish to share…

Good day Ms Moodley

I must share this with you.

The neighborhood watch members whom attended the DNA course. Had an opportunity to attend a crime scene before the police or any armed response companies and could secure and preserve the crime properly and done an excellent hand over of the scene to SAPS.

Thank you for the workshop the neighborhood watch members are now talking highly of the course and are encouraging other members to attend the next course.

Well done to DNA Project.

Kind Regards
Wesley Prinsloo

Well done to the Kuils River CPF members on successfully securing their crime scene for the SAPS!

Kuils River CPF workshop presented by DNAP trainer Renate on 12 March 2016

On the graveyard shift: this is what it’s like to collect South Africa’s dead

April 8th, 2016

Selby Cindi, from Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services, and a Johannesburg metro police officer lift the body of an accident victim from a street in the Johannesburg CBD. Image: Alon Skuy

The following article published by the Sunday Times takes a fascinating look at South Africa’s Forensic Pathology Services.

Five nights, four bodies. Reporter Graeme Hosken and photographer Alon Skuy spent the graveyard shift with the men and women who collect South Africa’s dead.

Body #38 lies on a steel gurney in Carletonville Forensic Pathology Services’s “new” fridge.

The government-issued cream-coloured body bag refuses to seal, her arm hangs half out.

She’s just arrived. Half-naked, 14 stab wounds to the chest.

“Gogo” was found sprawled on the dusty ground in the backyard of her Bekkersdal home. Her bloodied white blouse ripped open, her skirt bunched around her waist.

She had been there for days. She lived alone.

“It’s tough,” says Sello Mabote, as he scrawls her “new ID” number on a beige toe tag.

“It’s especially tough when it comes to the families.”

For his colleague Mpho Marahoni it’s murders, the death of children, and surviving families that get to him.

“They are lost,” he says as he writes down the body’s details, “searching for answers, pleading for help.”

South Africa’s morgue officers have to be policemen, church ministers and counsellors to the families of the dead.

Body #38 is the 38th of 107 bodies collected by Carletonville’s mortuary officers so far this year.

To continue reading the full article, please click here.

SOURCE: This article was first published by the Sunday Times on the 30th of March 2015

How dead pigs can help nail killers

February 29th, 2016

A pig’s carcass lies in a cage at a secret ­location on the Cape Flats. Weather-monitoring equipment is attached to the cage. (Devin Finaughty)

It is surprisingly difficult to find a place in Cape Town to leave a 60kg pig to rot. It cannot be close to water, in a residential area or anywhere near agricultural land – there are certain biohazard requirements.

It also has to be secure, so that none of the accompanying R46 000-worth of weather-monitoring equipment is stolen.

“This has been the most difficult part of my project,” says Devin Finaughty, a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Finaughty is investigating how human bodies decompose in the Cape, and a pig’s body is the closest to an actual human body when the latter can’t be used. He is quick to point out that his project has undergone rigorous ethical clearance.

We are sitting at the Rhodes Memorial Tea Garden, and overhead the mercurial Cape weather cannot decide whether it wants to rain.

Behind us, an eavesdropping elderly couple is torn between curiosity and disgust as we talk about dead bodies washing up on beaches, the life cycle of maggots and the bloating of corpses in a vlei.

Belinda Speed, another UCT PhD candidate investigating human decomposition, stirs her tea and pulls her cardigan closer around her.

“When we get bodies [in forensic pathology laboratories] that are decomposing, the main questions are: Who is it and how long have they been dead?” she says.

This is what Speed and Finaughty have set out to investigate: Finaughty on land and Speed in the turbulent Cape seas.

Environmental factors

Bodies decompose differently, depending on the environment that they are in, and this information is necessary to determine a time of death and, if foul play is suspected, to find the person responsible.

“The decomposition process is extremely varied and there are various factors that influence how a body decomposes,” says Dr Jolandie Myburgh, a senior technical assistant and lecturer at the University of Pretoria’s Forensic Anthropology Research Centre.

These factors include the humidity of the region, and the types of insects and animal scavengers in the area, among others.

From our vantage point at the Rhodes Memorial, we have a panoramic view from the Cape Flats through to the Helderberg and Hottentots-Holland mountains. The landscape is vivid under the heavy grey clouds. In the distance, the Indian and Atlantic oceans crash into each other.

Right now, somewhere in that landscape, there are four dead pigs spread over 10 acres in “a secure, private location on the Cape Flats”. Their carcasses are lying inside galvanised steel cages and Finaughty goes out to the sites daily to weigh them.

Weight loss over time is an indicator of the rate of decomposition, and he uses this information, in conjunction with the weather data, to model how the bodies decompose.

This is particularly important for an area like the Cape, which is a unique biome with endemic animals and plants.

“Because of the mountain, Cape Town has seven biogeoclimatic zones, so a body found on Table Mountain will decompose at a different rate to one in a forested kloof or the Cape Flats,” he says.

Red romans

In False Bay, Speed’s pig is suspended in a stainless steel cage and a camera light flashes periodically in the murky water. She chuckles: “red romans seem to love flashing lights, so there are lots of photos of red romans.”

Unlike Finaughty’s cage, which is a metal mesh, Speed’s looks more like a 1.7m x 1.6m x 1m prison cell. She starts off explaining the cage with her hands, but soon takes out her cellphone to show me pictures of it and a photo of a red roman.

It is blurry in murky water. “Mine has large bars, so that sharks can’t take a bite of it [the pig].”

Known as “pig lady” and sometimes “Babe” by the research diving unit, Speed says: “Because of the different bays and coastlines, we’ve had cases where pieces of human bodies and bones wash up on the beach.”

Her research aims to fill in many of the blanks about what happens to human bodies after they drown or are thrown or fall into the seas ­surrounding the Cape.

The area is unique because of the meeting of the two oceans. This affects what happens to a body, from the temperature of the water, its oxygen levels and salt content to how deep it is and how far the body is from the shore.

Knowing the extent to which these factors determine body decomposition will help forensic services and the police determine how long the person has been in the water.

“I will be overjoyed if I can fit a pig into a wet suit,” Speed says. She laughs at my surprise. “That is the kind of cases we’re getting – and a wet suit preserves the body in an amazing way. Animals can’t get into the wet suit and small fish can’t chew through.”

Pivotal insects

These small animals – both on land and in water – are pivotal to the decomposition process.

Finaughty’s work focuses on the insects that drive putrefaction.

There are internal decomposers, principally the bacteria in the digestive gut, as well as external insects and scavengers.

“[We] often talk about how the climate influences the rate of decomposition, but climate does it indirectly … [for example in terms of] the timing of flies depositing new eggs and the amount of bacteria growth,” Finaughty says.

“Yes, you can pull out individual variables, but if you want to make inferences about the system as a whole, you need to look at the whole system.”

Finaughty and Speed’s research adds to the work that has already been done on human body decomposition in the Cape.

“Currently, we only have data on decomposition patterns in Gauteng and the Cape,” says the University of Pretoria’s Myburgh, whose master’s thesis was on postmortem intervals in South Africa.

There are many different climates and environments in South Africa. “Ideally,” she says, “we would like to have data from all the various regions in South Africa so we can compare the body found to local data, which will minimise the degree of error from using decomposition data from a region with a completely different type of environment.”

SOURCE: This article was first published by the Mail & Guardian on 19 February 2016.

Fingerprint brushes could transfer touch DNA, study says

February 15th, 2016

Locard’s Principle of Exchange has been an absolute fundamental in criminal forensics for a century. The concept that the perpetrator will always take traces of the victim and the scene with them, while leaving traces of themselves in exchange, is the basis of all modern investigation.

However, the principle has gotten a little more complex with how sensitive DNA tests have become in recent years. Secondary transfer of human DNA has been demonstrated through handshakes. Now, a study has found that fingerprint brushes used at crime scenes to find latent prints could actually be picking up and then dropping genetic material in different locations.

The DNA was found in low-copy number techniques, according to the Journal of Forensic Sciences study, authored by forensic scientists at Florida International University.

“The dusting of latent prints may dislodge cellular debris from the latent print or substrate. That debris then adheres to the brush,” they write. “This brush is then used on another item of evidence, or at another crime scene, where it is subject to the same mechanical maneuvering and where it can dislodge cellular debris, leaving traces of biological evidence not pertinent to the evidence being handled.”

The more-exacting polymerase chain reaction process of amplification led to detection of DNA transfer: in 5 of the 12 samples in the 28-cycle process, and a startling 10 of 12 tests using a post-PCR cleanup process.

But the risk of false associations based on the contaminated DNA was only “moderate,” considering their laboratory conditions and analytic procedures, they conclude.

Since the possibility exists, however, standard protocols to handling latent prints before DNA testing needs to be established to eliminate the possibility of false results.

“Under LCN conditions, it may be possible to obtain DNA results that are not relevant to the case due to a secondary transfer by fingerprint brush contamination,” they conclude. “Comparisons to these results may lead to matches or inclusions thereby potentially producing false associations between the evidence and crime scene.

“Improper procedures may lead to false exclusions or false association between evidence and crime scene,” they add.

Bruce McCord, the lead author of the study, and his team at Florida International University were the recipients of the most National Institute of Justice awards during 2015, totaling $1.5 million – partly for their DNA analysis work, and also for studies into forensic chemistry and other topics.

McCord told a university publication that he was working on a DNA analysis method for on-scene results within six minutes.

SOURCE: This article was first published online by Forensic Magazine on 12 February 2016 – http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2016/02/fingerprint-brushes-could-transfer-touch-dna-study-says

Change a Life Wonderland Cycle Tour 2016

February 2nd, 2016

The 2016 Change a Life Wonderland Cycle Tour, scheduled to take place from 22 to 27 September heads to the magical Island of Mauritius.

Where participants will be treated to unspoilt beaches, crystal blue waters, exclusive luxury accommodation and an adventure that will be remembered forever…

Named the Change a Life Wonderland Tour in honour of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel, Alice in Wonderland, it will draw on the link between one of the book’s much-loved characters and the extinct Dodo bird that was endemic to Mauritius.

70 leading South African business, political and sporting personalities will participate in the challenging 500 km ride in sublime conditions which will include the exquisite azure sea and fine white sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean island.

Mauritius also offers visitors a mountainous interior that boasts a natural park with rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails and native fauna such as the flying fox, and the experience of a cultural melting pot that fuses the past with the future.​

To learn more, please visit www.changealifecycle.co.za

Welcome 2016!

January 10th, 2016

Greetings to all

As the New Year dawns, we hope 2016 is filled with the promises of a brighter tomorrow =)

Happy New Year!

#OscarPistorius’ murder conviction means his DNA will be placed on NFDD

December 4th, 2015

With the recent Supreme Court of Appeal’s recent ruling pronouncing ‪Oscar Pistorius‬ guilty of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013 and the overturning of his previous culpable homicide conviction, it is important to note that Oscar’s DNA will now have to be taken and his DNA profile placed onto our National Forensic DNA Database (NFDD) as a convicted offender where it will be retained indefinitely.

His DNA may well have already been taken as a result of his earlier culpable homicide conviction, as both are listed as a Schedule 8 offence under the new DNA Act, but this conviction was given before the Act was made fully operational on the 31st of January 2015.