Forensic Science - the facts

The seven units of the Forensic Science Department (FSD) carry out scientific tests for the police and the Criminal Investigations department, the Crime Scene Investigations department, the prosecution and courts, National Security and, occasionally, the traffic police.

Col Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Hammadi is the department director.
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The unit conducts DNA testing, analyses biological evidence, maintains a database of DNA profiles of criminals and conducts kinship DNA analysis. It has 22 staff, 70 per cent whom are women. To balance the ratio, the FSD recently sent 40 male students to study forensic science in universities in Britain, the US and Australia. Its biology department also analyses urine samples from camel races to ensure that the owners are not doping their animals.

This unit analyses handwriting and documents such as money, passports, work visas and legal papers that could be counterfeited. Utilising sophisticated lighting and magnification equipment, the unit analyses counterfeiting crimes and looks for patterns of errors to provide a better picture of how the criminals operate and what tools they use.

Responsible for determining the cause of every fire in the emirate, the unit uses a range of sophisticated tools to gather evidence. Once the CSI department hands over evidence to the unit, three experts try to extract evidence from charred wires, heaters, air conditioning and other electrical materials to determine if a fire was accidental or deliberately started. Through a process called gas chromatography, chemicals can be separated from the burnt evidence in as little as 45 minutes to show how much of every chemical element the sample contains. Since arson is a major issue in Abu Dhabi, the unit is often asked to produce results in less than 24 hours.

This unit has been collecting data the same way for decades - with superglue, powder brush and UV lighting. The swirls and loops of fingerprints remain as valuable today as ever in solving crimes. It also uses some newer tools, including a large computer database of all convicted criminals and suspects. Its job should become easier after the Emirates Identity Authority collects fingerprint data from every UAE resident.

Every firearm has its own "fingerprint" - what the members of this unit call "God's way of helping us solve crime". Its experts spend hours examining bullets and shells, and details of how weapons have been used. When the hammer of a firearm strikes a shell it leaves a unique dent that can be used to identify the weapon. The same when a bullet exits a gun's barrel.

Its experts oversee all the precise instruments and equipment used by the whole FSD. The unit is divided into several sections: one helps processes photographs and fingerprints from crime scenes; another analyses CCTV footage from places targeted by criminals such as banks and malls. Staff in its artistic section also draw sketches of suspects from witness descriptions that are circulated to police and sometimes to Interpol.

This is one of the FSD's busiest units and is responsible for alcohol, narcotics and poison testing. Annually the unit collects more than 5,000 urine samples. Depending how urgent a case is, it can provide results in less than 24 hours, although the average turnaround time is two days. The narcotics division was accredited last year by both the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and the International Standardisation Organization, putting it on par with major forensics labs around the world.