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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Dubai Police call in bugs and insects to help detectives crack cases

US expert conducting new research says that it is hoped it will help catch criminals

A forensic officer in training at a mock crime scene in Abu Dhabi. Police in Dubai are increasingly relying on insects for clues. Fatima Al Marzooqi/The National
A forensic officer in training at a mock crime scene in Abu Dhabi. Police in Dubai are increasingly relying on insects for clues. Fatima Al Marzooqi/The National

Dubai Police is known around the world for its fleet of luxury supercars and recently placed an order for flying motorbikes, but the force is now expanding its use of a less glamorous asset in the fight against crime – insects that infest rotting corpses.

Jeffrey D Wells, a US-based expert, has been brought in to carry out new research and to teach investigators about insects in an effort to help them solve cases.

Meanwhile, a new database has recently been rolled out by the Dubai Police, which will help investigators estimate the time of death in decomposing bodies by studying any insects and their larvae.

From the early stages of death, insects and other arthropods – animals with an external skeleton and no spine – are attracted to a body and will eventually lay eggs in it.

By observing the insects and the development of any larvae, experts can estimate a time of death by establishing how long a body has been undiscovered. This could prove crucial in investigating a suspicious death, helping to identify a killer or provide strong evidence to present in court.

“It is very exciting to work with a government agency that is so interested in improving what they do and moving into new topics,” Dr Wells said.

“We intend to take this project and expand it out into a more comprehensive understanding of forensic entomology [the study of insects and their arthropod relatives that inhabit decomposing remains] within the UAE and the wider region.”

Dubai police said 22 of its staff, including DNA experts and crime scene investigators, had been trained in an interactive forensic entomology course last year.

And while the techniques were already in use, they are becoming more sophisticated.

Major General Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri, the Commander-in-Chief of Dubai Police, said the recently implemented specialised forensic entomology database would ensure staff are aware of the most up-to-date scientific developments in the field.

The database is aimed at helping Dubai Police experts make use of forensic data based on insects and larvae shape, growth histories, species distribution and toxic contents in their tissue for criminal investigations, the senior officer told state news agency WAM.

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The course for Dubai police officers and staff is being delivered by Dr Wells, an expert in forensic entomology at Florida International University in the US.

He is undertaking a pilot project in collaboration with Dubai Police to gain a better understanding of how native insects to the UAE interact with corpses. Factors such as the climate, as well as place of death, must be taken into account when using insects to establish a timeline around a possible homicide.

Dr Wells is using dead animals to reach conclusions about how UAE insects would behave and develop in deceased humans.

It involves using multiple rat carcasses, which are placed within an area for different periods of time. They are then taken back to a lab and studied to see which ones have attracted insects and larvae.

“This is something we can analyse in a crime scene investigation,” Dr Wells said, explaining his current project in an online video posted last week.

“This is intended to be a pilot project to lead to something much larger. We hope to build upon what we learn here to extend it to the summer, which everyone tells me is extremely hot, and particularly to other areas of the United Arab Emirates.”

He paid tribute to state-of-the-art Dubai Police labs he has been allocated to undertake the work.

“The Dubai Police criminal justice and forensic science facilities are as good as any in the world,” he said. “We can do whatever we could do in the USA or in Europe. They are very progressive and open-minded and anxious to expand in to new areas.

“It’s been very nice, they’ve brought me over here to do a workshop and a talk with their people, they’ve asked me back to present my research and now to develop data for doing death investigation in the UAE and to train their personnel.”

Updated: December 29, 2018 12:51 PM

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