COLOMBO: The Maldives is a small country with a population of just 472,000, but it receives 1.2 to 1.4 million tourists a year, mainly from the West, Japan and now China also. The Maldivian Police Service (MPS), therefore, has an onerous task on hand to protect tourists from crimes and the West’s bugbear – Islamic terrorism.

Maldives is a 100% Islamic country. But it's Islam is not, in the least, of the extreme Wahhabi variety. The country is eminently peaceful too. And yet, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been on a vicious campaign to portray the country as a hotbed of Islamic extremism to exploit the paranoia of the West and use that for its narrow political end of overthrowing President Abulla Yameen.

Despite the various challenges, the hospitality and tourism industry of the Maldives has been resilient, and the performance of the sector of the showed improvement in the year 2016 compared to the year 2015.

With a total arrival of 1,286,135 inbound international tourists, the industry recorded an annual average tourist arrival growth rate of 4.2% in 2016 while the figure for 2015 was only 2.4%.

And the Maldives’ performance has been better than the global average. As per the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the global annual average tourist arrival growth rate for 2016 was 3.9% year-on-year which was slightly lower than the rate for the Maldives.

But if the tempo is to be maintained, the Maldivian police have to be first class. And that is precisely what it is striving hard to be.

The force, therefore, has to be extremely well trained, equipped with modern gear and backed by technical and scientific aids. With the full support of the government of President Abdulla Yameen, the Maldives police have risen to the challenge and modernized themselves remarkably in a short span of time.

Forensics Is Key

While crowd control is what is visible in the public domain, there is a lot of backroom work of vital importance being done in crime investigation and prosecution which go unnoticed.

The Forensic Services Directorate (FSD) for instance is one of the critical backroom facility performing a bewildering variety of tasks.The FSD was established with the Separation of Police Service from the military in 2004.

Till then the only forensic tests that were done were on narcotics and that was by the National Security Service. But with the formation of the FSD a sea change took place.

“The most important aspect of the directorate’s work is providing timely and quality services by ensuring that the laboratories and crime scene technicians operate according to technical standards and best practices,” said Ahmed Shifan, Head of Strategy and Legal Department and Spokesperson of the Maldives Police Service.

Explaining the functioning of the FSD, Shifan said that it has five laboratories; a quality management unit; and a crime scene investigation department.The Crime Scene Investigation Department (CSID) collects and preserves forensic samples from the scene of crime and provides reports and evidence to investigators and the judiciary.

The CSID is divided into two sub units: the Central Response Unit and the Divisional Evidence Response Unit. The Divisional Evidence Response Unit is further divided into seven Evidence Response Teams to cater to the different geographical areas of the Maldivian archipelago.

These teams are divided into Upper North, North, North Central, Central, South Central, Upper South and South Evidence Response Teams and the Central Evidence Response Unit is responsible for crime scenes within the national capital Male’ and the greater Male’ area.

“All units use the latest techniques and scientific methods according to the procedures and best practices set out by the FSD,” Shifan said.

The Divisional Evidence Response Unit is composed of seven teams for each of the seven divisions of the Maldives Police Service. Like the Central Evidence Response Unit, the seven teams of the Divisional Evidence Response Unit follow the same standards as the Central One.

Finger Printing

The Fingerprint Laboratory is divided into three sections. These are: Fingerprint Enhancement Section, Fingerprint Database Section and the Fingerprint Identification System.

The Fingerprint Laboratory is tasked with obtaining fingerprints from scenes of crime scenes and from physical evidence brought to the lab using scientific methods and best practices set out by the industry.

The lab is also responsible for obtaining ten fingerprints of individuals involved in the cases and storing in the database. An Automatic Fingerprint Identification System is also in operation.

DNA Laboratory

The DNA Laboratory is divided into four sections. These are; DNA Database Section, Mitochondrial DNA Section, Nuclear DNA Section and Serology & Screening Section.

The DNA Laboratory is responsible for extraction of DNA from biological samples and conducting DNA profiles of these samples. The lab is also responsible for maintaining the DNA database of individuals who are brought in for investigations.

Physical Evidence Laboratory

The Physical Evidence Laboratory is divided into two sections. These are: Trace Analysis Section and the Document Analysis Section. The Laboratory deals with investigation of forged signatures and documents and is also involved in analyzing documents related to embezzlement. Trace evidence analysis and tool mark analysis are also undertaken by this laboratory.

Drug & Chemical Laboratory

The Drug & Chemical Laboratory is divided into three sections. These are: Toxicology Section, Drug Analysis Section & Arson Analysis Section.

This laboratory tests substance for narcotics and other compounds that may be included in the confiscated narcotics. Testing samples for alcohol content and testing individuals for alcohol and narcotics consumption are also undertaken by this lab.

The lab analyses samples brought from arson related crime scenes to determine whether a fire accelerant had been used. Analysis of unknown chemical substances and determining the compounds contained in these substances are also undertaken.

Digital Evidence Laboratory

The Digital Evidence Laboratory is divided into three sections. These are: Computer Forensics, Mobile Forensics & Forensic Audio, Video & Image Analysis.

The Quality Management Unit comprises of an Administrative Section, Evidence Control Section and Training & Performance Management Section.This unit is directly responsible for maintain the quality of all tests and investigations being carried out by the FSD as well as the administrative work of the directorate.

The unit ensures the integrity of the samples and the tests. It is also responsible for training and evaluating the performance of the employees.

Forensic Pathology Section

The Forensic Pathology Section determines cause and time of death of individuals involved in suspicious deaths. This section also collects and analyses data based on the postmortems and autopsies and publishes reports based on the analyses.

Behavioral Analysis Section

The Behavioral Analysis Section is responsible for administering polygraph tests in criminal cases. This section also vets individuals who are employed by the Maldives Police Service through polygraph tests and generates offender psychological profiles. The section is also responsible for analyzing crime scenes.

Quality Assurance

The FSD undergoes two major quality checks that are up to industry standards. Firstly, there is the Technical Method. In this, each test and analysis is double checked by another analyst for errors, and the final results are double checked by the analyst’s supervisor to ensure that the results are reliable and that all protocols had been followed.

Secondly, there is the Administrative Method: In this, each lab undergoes periodic reviews according to the needs of the respective labs.

Challenges Faced

According to the Quality Manager of Forensic Services Directorate, Chief Inspector of Police, Ahmed Rashwan, the geographical isolation of islands is one of the major challenges faced by the FSD in providing timely services.

“Valuable time and resources are spent in transporting samples from the islands to the labs based in Male. But statutes of limitations brought by the newly enacted Criminal Procedure Code have made timely analysis of samples vital for investigators,” Rashwan said.

“The other challenge is lack of availability of equipment, reagents and other consumables in the Maldives. But the greatest challenge faced by the FSD is a lack of trained individuals. Forensic Science requires highly qualified and professional personnel and this is not a commodity easily available in the Maldives,” he added.

However, despite the difficulties the FSD has many feathers in its cap.

The DNA laboratory has introduced the nuclear DNA method to analyze biological stains. Scene of Crime Officers have been placed in all police stations.Finger Print Labs services are being provided in Addu City and HDh.Kulhudhuffushi. A FFTA machine has been brought to enhance the capabilities of the Physical Evidence Laboratory.

Three fuming chambers have been bought for three divisions to enable fingerprint developing in the atolls. CCTV retrieval and Mobile Forensic Services have been introduced in the Digital Evidence Laboratory of the South Police Division.

An Air Transportation Console has been introduced to ensure fast delivery of samples to Male’.

“The FSD expects to introduce new tests for gases, to trace evidence, to test home-made explosives and also introduce mitochondrial DNA analysis in the near future. The FSD closely works with foreign partners to ensure the quality of services provided. The directorate is currently working to get all the labs ISO 17025 certified in 2018. The aim of FSD is to be among the leading forensic services in the region,” Rashwan said.