Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good morning. It is my pleasure to join the Third International Forensic Science Symposium here in Mexico City and address such a distinguished and accomplished group of forensic scientists, lab directors, quality managers, and prosecutors from across Mexico and throughout the region.
I had the honor of speaking at this event a year ago, and am thrilled to join you again today. Last year, I praised the enormous successes that had been achieved by laboratories in Mexico in the field of forensic science. And today, I continued to be impressed by the ongoing, landmark achievements that have occurred over the past 12 months. Once again, this symposium has provided a forum for us to build on those successes by sharing experiences, gaining deeper insight, and finding common solutions to challenges in forensic science.
At the outset, I would like to thank the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, or INL, for supporting today’s event. On behalf of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, we greatly appreciate the commitment to investing in forensic science as part of the Merida Initiative from Assistant Secretary of State Kirsten Madison, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Walsh, and of course INL-Mexico’s Acting Director Virginia Kent, who just spoke. Without the vision and support from INL, this symposium – as well as the great progress we have made and will continue to make – would not be possible. Thank you, Acting Director Kent and your colleagues, for your support, cooperation, and coordination.
I also am proud to acknowledge our Mexican colleagues for their extraordinary commitment and collaboration in these efforts. There are too many critical and dedicated partners here to mention, but I want to particularly recognize:
- Maestro Felipe de Jesús Gallo Gutiérrez, the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Investigative Methods of the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR); and
- Maestro Anselmo Apodaca, the Head of the Coordination of Forensic Laboratories in the Office of the Coordination of Investigative Methods of the FGR.
Thank you both for your continued leadership in achieving excellence in forensic science.
In 2019, the public safety threats that we face grow increasingly complex every day. Transnational crime is more pervasive than ever. The trafficking of drugs, arms, people, and money touches every corner of society, and takes far too many lives on both sides of the border. In the face of these realities, those of us who investigate and prosecute violent crimes have challenging jobs. Jobs that can be draining. Jobs that can be frustrating. Jobs that take us away from our families, that cause us to miss dinners, birthday parties, and soccer practices.
But there are a few things that drive us to stay focused on our mission. Identifying and bringing to justice violent offenders. Making our societies safer. Protecting the most vulnerable members of our society – our children, the elderly – from becoming victims of future crimes. Identifying missing victims of violent crimes, and returning them to their anguished families. This is what makes our work so important and meaningful, and also why advances in forensic science and something like a comprehensive and effective national criminal DNA database are so essential.
The United States – through the FBI – has been working with the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR) to donate the most recent version of our DNA database software, known as the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS. The term CODIS generally refers to our national DNA index of samples from convicted offenders, arrestees, crime scenes, unidentified human remains, missing persons, and relatives of missing persons, which are contributed by our participating federal, state, and local forensic laboratories. CODIS has been invaluable to U.S. law enforcement in helping us track down offenders, solve crimes that otherwise might remain unsolved, and identify bodily remains of persons who could not otherwise be identified.
The impact of forensic databases in the United States has been significant. Violent crime in the United States generally has been falling, including in some parts of the country to levels half what they were 25 years ago. While a number of factors have contributed to this decline, there can be no doubt that forensic science and our criminal forensic databases have made our communities safer.
Let me share some numbers. Since its inception, CODIS has grown to include over 17 million known profiles and over 950,000 crime scene profiles. As of June 2019, the CODIS program has produced over 472,000 hits assisting in more than 461,000 investigations. That is an astounding number. Over 461,000 investigations have been aided. Can you imagine the impact that has had on not just solving crime, but also on deterring and preventing crime?
And let me say a few words about crime prevention. When we arrest and convict violent offenders, we effectively neutralize them and limit their ability to victimize the innocent. We take these criminals off the grid, and make society safer. A U.S. economist has studied the impact of CODIS and concluded that each profile added to the national offender database saves between $1,566 and $19,945 in prevented crime. That translates into an estimated $1.2 billion in annual savings.
Forensic databases – and ultimately the efforts of forensic scientists like many of those here – not only help bring criminals to justice, they prevent crime and save lives. But any database is only as good as the information that is uploaded into the system.
That is why I am so pleased to see the successful efforts in Mexico to develop quality management systems and, ultimately, to achieve international accreditation. Each of the 72 labs accredited in Mexico – in 12 States and the FGR – can now utilize the seal from the ANSI National Accreditation Board, signifying that they conform to a specific international level of quality. This means, in courts across Mexico, competent scientists, using scientifically validated methods, calibrated and maintained equipment, and documented procedures are providing reliable testimony that is helping to convict the guilty or free the falsely accused.
I also encourage our Department of Justice team at ICITAP and leadership within the Mexican state and federal forensic labs to continually look for ways to increase efficiency and productivity. It is not enough to produce reliable results. To most effectively support investigations and prevent future crimes, forensic laboratories must produce not only reliable results but also timely assistance.
I also wish to mention a significant recognition. ICITAP and forensic labs in the State of Puebla, Hidalgo, and Nuevo Leon recently were visited by evaluators from the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, or ASCLD. In a letter addressed to ASCLD membership, ASCLD President Brooke Arnone, who I understand spoke with you on Monday, remarked that the evaluators “learned a lot and were greatly impressed with the labs in Mexico and their incredible progress to meet accreditation standards.” She observed that this “work and investment will pay dividends for many years” and encouraged other ASCLD members to host our Latin American colleagues in their labs. That kind of international, cross-border cooperation makes the world smaller, and a smaller world provides little space for criminals to hide.
In parting, let me recognize the work of your laboratories through a few examples of how you have made a difference.
In July of last year, a nine-year-old girl went missing in Zacatecas. An Amber Alert was issued and a few days later a tragic discovery was made when the remains of a young girl were found nearby. Within 72 hours, a team of forensic experts, investigators, and prosecutors had provided the State with enough evidence, including crime scene DNA, to arrest an individual who is now awaiting trial.
In May of 2017, several men in possession of six firearms were detained by law enforcement in Baja California Sur. According to media reports, through the use of a ballistics database, four of the seized weapons were linked to at least nine homicides in Baja California Sur and one in Sinaloa. In addition, three of the men were linked to the murder of journalist Ricardo Maximino Palacios only a month earlier. In June of this year, due in part to that forensic evidence, those three men, as well as a fourth accomplice, were sentenced to over 18 years in prison for their role in the murder of Mr. Palacios. Thanks to the extraordinary work of police, the forensic laboratory, and prosecutors, these deadly weapons were taken off the street and murderers were brought to justice.
These are just a couple of the many examples I have heard of the impressive forensic-related work that happens across Mexico. It is important for your citizens to also hear about your successes.
Public trust in our work is vital. The progress the Mexican laboratories are making on international accreditation will assure the public of the reliability of your work and that your findings are grounded in science. At the same time, the improved integrity resulting from international accreditation will enable strong, confident, and clearly understood testimony in the courtroom.
I therefore urge the forensic leaders here today to become effective communicators to the citizens of your States and countries. Tell them about the advances being made toward the accreditation of laboratories and forensic services throughout the region. These are significant accomplishments, and you should be proud of them.
Lastly, I want to thank you and your staff for the work that you do on a daily basis. As I said before, our work can take a toll. The constant flow of new cases into your laboratory may make you wonder, “Am I really making a difference?” I assure you that your work does. It makes a difference to the victims – and to their families, friends, and loved ones. It makes a difference to society. It makes a difference to the potential victims of crimes that were prevented. Society looks to you – the officers, investigators, and prosecutors – to provide justice and closure.
Thank you for inviting me to be here with you today. Once again, I commend our U.S. Embassy partners and our Mexican counterparts here and across the country on your significant accomplishments to date, and I wish you all the best in your continued strides toward regional excellence in forensic science. Thank you.
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