x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

CSI Abu Dhabi - and no expense spared

Programme inside the Crime Scene Village trains officers how to handle evidence and preserve integrity of the scene.

ABU DHABI // Mike Lawson carefully manoeuvres his way inside the crime scene tape. He gets on his knees and sifts through a pile of pebbles. Using gloves, he picks up a white button, which he presumes came from a shirt during a struggle, and places it aside to bag as evidence that may have DNA on it and identify a criminal. Steps away from Lawson is a car that is smashed with its glass shattered on the seats and its tyres flat. As Lawson unearths the evidence he moves a few inches from where he found the button. A few brush strokes of some surface dirt and the tip of a blue rope appears. He carefully removes the pebbles showing another end of the rope that makes him believe it was used for strangulation. The tip of what looks like eyelashes start to appear. Then the tip of a nose. Then a head. After 35 years of working on crime scenes in West Yorkshire, England, Lawson has seen it all. The only difference is that this is a simulated crime scene deep inside Abu Dhabi's Police College that aims to train Emirati officers in how to work a crime scene in a way that does not contaminate the evidence and efficiently solves a crime. Lawson is one of five experts from the UK who are training Abu Dhabi's next generation of crime-scene investigators. Combined, they bring nearly two centuries of experience in solving some of the most complex crimes in the UK. Standing above the buried mannequin, Lawson stands back and takes questions from a dozen Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers. Dressed in dishdashas, the young CID officers listen attentively. "A crime scene is like a puzzle," says a seven-year veteran CID officer. "Although it has changed drastically since I joined." The literal Arabic translation for a crime scene is crime stage and Ahmed says the stage is international. "You can have a crime happen here but Act II can be in London, Act III can be in Pakistan and Act IV in Indonesia. The crime stage is international. This is why it is so important that we have a universal way of handling a crime scene," the officer says on the condition of anonymity. Malcolm Patterson, a CID adviser, says: "It's the theory followed by practice. That's why we bring them here today. We cover the strategic plan, we talk to them about the five-year CID plan, which is to reduce crime. "We are trying to involve as many Emirati police officers to give their input about their particular specialisation. Our main role is only to advise and get them to learn from the mistakes that we have made in the UK." "We are introducing Abu Dhabi CID to tried and tested international best practice to professionalise the investigation process. As the diverse population of the Emirate grows, this will bring crimes not seen before in the UAE but hopefully, with the training we are all providing, it will prepare the police to deal with them." Although the nature of crime varies in the UK from that in Abu Dhabi, the experts say Abu Dhabi is using equipment on a par with that used by London's Metropolitan Police. Among the Abu Dhabi police's most prized possessions is a camera that captures 360 degrees of a crime scene in high definition. The Dh340,000 ($100,000) SceneWorks camera takes measurements of all items in the scene. Using computer software, a technician can connect pictures going from room to room. All of the evidence gathered from a crime scene - videography, photography, plans, fingerprints, trace evidence - can be uploaded to the computer, highlighted, then presented later in court. "The fact is today's technology allows other people to examine the crime scene in detail without actually being there," says Larry Evans, who came to Abu Dhabi after his retirement from the UK's Devon and Cornwall police. Although the machine is in a trial phase in which only a few are being trained on it, "the intention is to incorporate it into the court to show judges and lawyers the actual crime scene", says John Yearnshire, who has been here for three years training Emiratis in crime-scene management. Yearnshire, a retired police officer from the Northumbria force in the north of England, trained police officers at the National Training Centre in crime-scene management. "The equipment that is being used here is by far among the most advanced equipment available to the best police forces worldwide," he says. In a windowless room, Corp Mohammed al Shihhe enthusiastically demonstrates the latest laser technology used on crime scenes. "This is an intense laser light that allows us to identify seamen, fingerprints, blood stains that are not visible to the naked eye or even using UV lights," Corp al Shihhe says as he demonstrates the laser inside a protected display case. He is one of eight people in the country who are trained on the machine. Having been at the crime-scene "village", as it is known within the force, for nearly three years, he will likely emerge a leader as the new Emirati generation begins to train their own people. This is hope of the village's designer, James Gallagher. In 2003 James Gallagher was planning his retirement when he was contacted by Major Gen Nasser Salem al Nuaimi, the current undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior. After studying the crime scenes in the UAE, Gallagher presented his recommendations and out of that came the crime-scene training village in 2005. "The training programme is intense and it is not just a one-time event. They come back several times for different kinds of training. The environment here is different from the UK. The humidity and heat can affect evidence so we have had to adapt to that difference," Gallagher says. As Abu Dhabi's population increases, attracting all kinds of people, the pressure is to match the police force to the kinds of crime that could potentially emerge here. "Abu Dhabi will stand out, not only in the region but in the world. It has shown a long-term vision for the future," Gallagher says. "As the population increases, a small percentage of those who come here are criminally orientated and Abu Dhabi has to be prepared." myoussef@thenational.ae