The facilities include an X-ray area and morgue, which includes the autopsy room and another room for decomposed bodies, a laboratory and a storage area for bodies. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

It’s a difficult and challenging job, but the critical role forensics plays in helping law enforcement agencies deliver justice makes it worth the effort.

Major Dr Younus Al Beloushi, head of forensic medicine at Dubai Police Forensic Department, should know. The specialist, who trained in Germany, oversees complicated forensics work at the police department and the objective is always simple: Provide law enforcement with a report that is accurate and clear.

In a nutshell, it’s the department’s job to find out whether a death is a homicide, accident, natural, suicide or undetermined.

Dr Al Beloushi’s job also requires him to provide expertise in courts and to prosecutors in litigation involving medical or health cases. “Forensic pathologists look at fingerprints, hair and fibres, among other things, to provide testimony on injury and death,” he said.

In addition to examining the dead and injured, the department also transfers bodies from hospitals to cemeteries or to a forensics lab or to the airport for repatriation. It is also involved in preserving bodies in the morgue until the completion of formalities.

Major Dr Khalid Al Braiki, head of the pathological technical support section at the department, believes that the department is the best of its kind in the Middle East when it comes to technical expertise.

Dr Al Braiki, who also trained in pathology in Germany, said the collection, preservation and forensic analysis of biological material found at a crime scene is critical in settling an investigation.

There are almost six forensic doctors at the department, who work in different shifts.

“I worked in Germany for five years before I joined the Dubai Police Forensics Department. There is no work pressure since the crime rate is very low compared to what we see in other countries,” he said.

A pathologist may deal with 90 cases a month, Dr Al Braiki said. Duties involve examining crime scenes, testifying in court and providing expertise to public prosecution.

Dr Al Braiki pointed out that a forensic pathologist is different from a forensic scientist. A pathologist, who performs autopsies, has to be a licensed doctor. This requires going to medical school for a minimum of six years. After medical school, one needs to complete at least another five-year pathology residency, followed by a year-long forensic pathology fellowship.

Dr Al Braiki said to succeed as a pathologist, one should be detail-oriented and intellectually curious.

“Despite the fact that it takes more than 10 years of training to become licensed, we wanted to be forensic doctors because there are few Emiratis in this field,” he added.

The forensics department has many facilities to accommodate detailed research work, including an X-ray area and the morgue, which includes the autopsy room and another room for decomposed bodies, a laboratory and a storage area for bodies.

The intricacies of the work include studying samples under a microscope, reviewing medical records, checking laboratory results and issuing reports. “Of course, we are supposed to have the right answers all the time,” Dr Al Braiki said.

HIV tests, collecting DNA for testing at the criminology and evidence department, blood tests and immunological tests are done at the department. A female doctor handle cases of rape and other sexual crimes.

The work of a forensic scientist begins at the scene of a crime. The entire investigation hinges on that first person being able to properly identify, isolate and secure the scene, Dr Al Braiki said.

“It is important that the first officer at the crime scene properly protect the evidence.” Establishing perimeters to prevent the destruction of evidence is critical.

There are two types of evidence in most cases: Testimonial and physical. The testimonial evidence refers to eyewitness accounts of an incident while physical evidence refers to material items at the crime scene. “Crime scene documentation is important in the investigation process,” he said.

There are three methods of documentation — written notes, photographs or a diagram/sketch. The final report should be a descriptive story. A general description of the crime scene should be given just as the investigator sees it when he or she does the initial walkthrough of the scene.

Dr Al Braiki has complete confidence in DNA testing, which he said can be irrefutable proof of guilt or innocence. “It enables authorities to solve a crime by identifying suspects, missing people and those involved in sexual assaults.”

“The DNA index system in our lab allows us to identify suspects by matching DNA from crime scenes to convicted offenders,” he said.

DNA samples can be extracted from hair, saliva, sweat, semen, blood, nails and human cells. Testing takes two days.

“Sometimes there are difficulties in dealing with decomposed samples or those that have been degraded by time. In these cases, we develop different techniques to test these samples,” Dr Al Braiki said.

“A variety of techniques, including use of chemicals, powders and other means, are employed in the detection and development of invisible prints,” he said.

Among the department’s challenges are dealing with families uncomfortable with allowing autopsies on relatives in cases of sudden or unexpected death. While accepting the influence of cultural or religious views in this reluctance, Dr Al Braiki pointed out that autopsy is done only where there is a suspicion of a crime such as a homicide or suicide, and in some cases, traffic accidents. “Tests include toxicology and genetic testing,” he said.

“We are known for our role in the criminal justice system, where we scientifically analyse evidence at a crime scene and testify in court, but we also advocate public health policies that keep people safe,” he said.

Dr Al Braiki also said it is hard to determine suspected cases of food poisoning.

It may seem hard to believe, but the 35-year-old Dr Al Braiki, a father of four, says there are fascinating aspects to his work.

“I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out what happened and coming up with good answers. It’s always exciting,” he said. “Forensic pathology is a big commitment.”

The forensic department is looking to compete with international labs in terms of expertise, Dr Al Braiki said, adding that Major General Khamis Mattar Al Mazeina, chief of Dubai Police, has promised them all the support to develop the facility.