Forensics play a crucial role in crime investigation – Interview on UNODC, INL cooperation in Kyrgyzstan

1. Dear Mr. Savidge, you have recently joined the US Embassy to lead US Department of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). What are your impressions of our country?

A: I’m very impressed with the warm welcome I have received from my Kyrgyz colleagues and friends.  I have also managed to travel a bit around the country, and the scenery is truly spectacular! My family and I look forward to living here for another two years.

2. As part of the law enforcement and judicial reform process in Kyrgyzstan, INL pays great attention to forensic services through UNODC-implemented projects. Why did you choose this area as one of the priority ones to provide assistance?

A:  One of INL’s missions is to help partner governments to reform their law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Forensics play an important role in the investigation of criminal and civil cases. In Kyrgyzstan, the State Forensic Service is the main provider of forensic expertise. The criminal justice system relies on the impartial data provided by its forensic labs to build cases based on physical evidence. This is why the State Forensic Service was chosen to strengthen its capacity so that they can provide quality expertise to the criminal justice system.

INL started providing technical assistance in 2001. In the past 20 years forensic equipment, like gas chromatographs, microscopes, office and IT equipment were purchased and donated.  The U.S. Embassy’s collaboration with UNODC has proven to be productive in building the capacity of Kyrgyzstan’s forensic laboratories. Through UNODC, INL funded the full refurbishment of the new building of the State Forensic Service, which was inaugurated in 2017. Local and international experts facilitated numerous trainings for Kyrgyz forensic experts to strengthen the forensic quality management system and develop standard operating procedures for specific types of expertise. In 2019, INL provided additional microscopes and other technical equipment in order to help the Kyrgyz Forensic Service receive international accreditation in several sections, including drug testing.

3. The State Forensic Service as well as other independent forensic organizations are preparing for international accreditation. What contribution has the joint initiative with UNODC made to this process?

A: I think it is important in terms of preparation to international accreditation to lay the groundwork by purchasing the equipment, training the scientists, and forming international partnerships to lead the way in the future. All these have been recently done building on the previously rendered assistance to the State Forensic Service. In particular, as a result of the earlier support of INL and UNODC to the State Forensic Service, a central evidence storage facility has been built, which includes an e-database and barcode system to ensure the safe storage of received evidence. Moreover, to support the institutional and professional capacity development of the forensic service, a library has been established with forensic reference materials including developing a quality control manual and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and related training manuals. These mentioned SOPs and related materials have been developed for the types on expertise selected for international accreditation, namely: handwriting and document examination, testing of drugs and special chemicals (luminescent) substances as well as ballistics and trace expertise. Eventually, practical skills of forensic experts were enhanced on validation studies and the application of mentioned SOPs.

With UNODC support, an exchange visit to Georgia has been recently organized for the State Forensic Service with the support of the INL-funded project. As part of this visit, experts from Kyrgyzstan studied the procedures and practices of the National Forensic Bureau of Georgia and Forensic Department of the Georgian Ministry of Interior. Both these forensic institutions have successfully passed international accreditation with the support of INL. The State Forensics Service has established links with forensic institutes from Georgia. This is a great step, which will allow for positive mentoring to raise the level of services provided by the Kyrgyz Forensic Service.

INL looks forward to seeing the equipment, training, and partnerships formed result in full international accreditation in the coming years.

4. We wish you success in your future work and please tell us about the plans with which you entered into this new position.

A:  Thank you for your questions. The U.S. Embassy will continue supporting the development of the law enforcement sector and judicial system. Besides our work with the forensic laboratory, we are very proud of our support to the development and implementation of new criminal legislation, fighting against human and drug trafficking, and shifting the police force to a community policing model. I look forward to the next two years and working further with my Kyrgyz colleagues.