The forensic examination of narcotic drugs complies with international standards. This is the performance of the Police Forensic Center (PFC) under the General Police Inspectorate, which obtained ISO 17025 accreditation for a new area of expertise – identification of narcotic drugs belonging to amphetamines using the gas chromatography-mass spectrometry method (GC/MS). The institution was accredited in this area in April 2021 by the National Accreditation Center “MOLDAC”. The PFC got the possibility to prepare itself for this procedure thanks to the support provided by the U.S. Government through a project implemented by UNDP Moldova.
Examination of drugs is by far the PFC’s most demanded expertise, as the institution receives daily from 30 to 50 requests thereof from the law enforcement bodies. From several grams up to impressive quantities of hundreds of kilograms of drugs – the mission of identifying the substances seized by law enforcement bodies is always performed by the forensic experts. A crime is established only when there is proof. Hence, the forensic expertise reports serve as heavy pieces of evidence in court trials.
Does the substance submitted for examination contain drugs, and if yes, what type of drugs do they belong to? What is the quantity of drugs contained in the substance submitted for expertise? These would be the most frequent questions addressed by criminal investigation bodies to the experts from the PFC.
Sometimes the forensic experts have only several hours at their disposal to provide answers to all questions submitted by the law enforcement agents.
“There are cases when the criminal investigation body knows that a suspect has a ticket and should leave immediately after delivering a quantity of drugs. Thus, we have to intervene quickly. Prompt reaction is necessary in other cases as well. For instance, the person is arrested for 72 hours, and we have to do our best to examine a big number of samples with unknown content in order to prove the presence or absence of drugs in them”, says Andrei Modrînga, Head of Substance Examination Section within the PFC.
Rapid actions are also necessary in case of special investigation measures performed by police special subdivisions, when the law enforcement bodies need to establish if substances introduced in the circuit (for instance, through some parcels) are drugs. The samples are analyzed, the expertise reports are drafted, the parcel with the substance moves further and the suspect takes it, being immediately arrested by the police.
The forensic experts succeed to perform high quality expertise within a short period of time also thanks to the method for which ISO 17025 accreditation was obtained – identification of amphetamines using gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC/MS) method.
“We have specifically submitted this method for accreditation because over the last period of time the substances from the amphetamines’ class are the most common in illegal circulation”, states Andrei Modrînga.
Chain of custody and strict control over evidence
The path of evidence within the PFC is strictly documented, from the moment the request to perform the forensic expertise entered the institution up to the moment the final report is issued. First, the corpus delicti are photographed and examined afterwards using modern equipment.
The experts say that every piece of evidence is kept in secure conditions, only a limited number of persons having access to it. By the end of examinations, a forensic expertise report is issued, covering all the details, including the corpus delicti, the submitted quantity and the quantity used for analysis, quantity of solvent used for a sample, etc. The employees of the sections say that any stage of the examination process may be verified – who performed the examination, who participated in the expertise, etc. All data are filed and preserved for a period of 25 years together with the forensic expertise reports.
ISO accreditation means national and international recognition
Other 11 persons work alongside Irina in the Substance Examination Section. The workload has increased for some of the employees during the ISO evaluation period. Besides performing daily forensic expertise, a group of four experts had to work on the validation casefile for evaluation and accreditation.
This casefile included all the materials supporting the idea that the chosen examination method generates the expected result. Trials were carried out based on specific criteria set for method validation. Two international experts were involved in the evaluation of the method proposed by the institution. Three months have passed since the evaluation until the accreditation certificate was issued – during this period, the employees of the section made minor adjustments and certain improvements, recommended by evaluators.
Although the ISO accreditation involved additional work for the employees, the results obtained were worth the effort. “First of all, the accreditation means international acknowledgement, certainty of forensic expertise results’ validity for criminal investigation body, which fully trusts the expertise performed by us. At the same time, the accreditation opens for us new opportunities for collaboration with forensic centers from other countries, as well as the possibility to join specialized international structures”, states Mihail Coșleț, Deputy Head of PFC.
Since 2014, the Police Forensic Center has benefited from assistance provided by the U.S. Government through UNDP Moldova. Due to these interventions, in February 2018, the institution was accredited according to SM SR EN ISO/CEI 17025:2006 (replaced by SM EN ISO/IEC 17025:2018) standard “General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories”, in six areas of expertise: ballistics, impressions, fingerprints, handwriting, forensic document examination and digital forensics. The Police forensics labs have been endowed during this process with equipment and software solutions necessary for obtaining the accreditation.
SM SR EN ISO/CEI 17025:2018 is an international standard applicable to the forensic expertise and represents a modality to assure the beneficiaries that the forensic labs have the necessary capacities to provide safe and accurate results of performed investigations/expertise. The accreditation certificate confirms compliance with the standard requirements and allows recognition of forensic examinations performed in Moldovan Police labs at the international level.
Support was provided under the “Support to Law Enforcement Reform in Moldova” Project implemented by UNDP with financial support of the U.S. Government.