Washington, D.C. — The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), and the Governor of Puerto Rico announce the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among NAAG, ASCLD, and Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety.
This MOU sets forth the history and future of the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Project (the Project), an endeavor by NAAG and ASCLD to assist the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Science (BFS or the Bureau; Negociado de Ciencias Forenses, or NCF, in Spanish) in recovering from the damage wrought by Hurricane Maria and in addressing capacity issues.
The Project has included two needs assessment trips by NAAG and ASCLD teams in April and November 2018; ASCLD providing its Leadership Academy to BFS staff from January 11-13, 2019; and additional work over the past ten months by forensic scientists and attorneys to assist BFS.
This week, thirteen expert forensic scientists from the continental United States will work with their BFS counterparts to evaluate and improve testing methods, and to increase the lab’s capacity and the timeliness of its analyses. The NAAG and ASCLD team will also evaluate infrastructure and instrument needs, and assist state and federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers, as well as BFS personnel, in developing prioritization plans for evidence testing by the BFS that reflect the public safety needs of Puerto Rico. Concurrently, eight forensic anthropologists from around the country will be performing forensic analysis of human remains at BFS.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who led a delegation of attorneys general and staff during the Project’s April 2018 needs assessment, said “When the Secretary of Justice reached out to NAAG to ask for assistance in the wake of Hurricane Maria, attorneys general from across the political spectrum responded to help one of our members. We recognize the importance of a strong forensic science laboratory to ensure that prosecutors like those at the Puerto Rico Department of Justice can do their jobs of ensuring justice and keeping citizens safe. We at NAAG welcome this partnership with ASCLD and DPS.”
“As Americans and as law enforcement, we have an obligation to help Puerto Rico recover and rebuild,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the other state attorney general leading the Project. “This effort to rebuild and expand Puerto Rico’s capacity to investigate and prosecute crime is one way that state attorneys general can support our colleagues.”
“The work of this group of professionals is broad and is extremely important for the Bureau at this time. All these agreements have been developed to stabilize and improve a Bureau whose work is highly specialized in the sciences and crucial for the clarification of criminal cases and suspicious deaths. I am very grateful and pleased with the commitment we have reached because I am sure that it will yield positive results,” said Secretary of Public Safety Héctor M. Pesquera.
Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice Wanda Vázquez Garced said, “After Hurricane María, the Department of Justice approached NAAG and our fellow Attorneys General for assistance and help for Puerto Rico. Our efforts were directed to expedite and facilitate the reconstruction plans after the devastation of our Island. The impact on the criminal justice system components was evident. The central office of the Department of Justice was destroyed; other agencies faced critical challenges. Our efforts were not limited to the Department of Justice. We identified urgent needs at the Forensic Science Bureau (NCF) and approached NAAG for their collaboration. The NCF faced new challenges, and resources were needed to continue providing and improving their services in benefit of the criminal justice system. We thank NAAG and the ASCLD for their immediate response to provide their expertise, forensic science personnel, training and technical support for the build-out and execution of the NCF’s mission and goals.”
ASCLD President Matthew Gamette said, “The forensic science community is a very generous one. ASCLD members have a proud history of coming to the assistance of a neighbor in their time of need. ASCLD members are eager to provide their talents, expertise, and time to help our fellow scientists, doctors, and colleagues in Puerto Rico. There are many ways that ASCLD members are uniquely poised to help the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Sciences address leadership needs, increase analytical capacity, address fiscal and personnel concerns, provide both technical and leadership training, and solve infrastructure and instrumentation problems. We will continue to work side by side with the Puerto Rico laboratory scientific and leadership teams to identify and obtain needed resources, solve technical issues, and ensure that robust scientific methodology continues to be practiced. We are proud to partner with NAAG and DPS on this important initiative to fortify the criminal justice system in Puerto Rico.”
“NAAG welcomes the opportunity to bring attorneys general together with partner organizations like ASCLD to assist one of our members, and to share the expertise of our staff,” said NAAG Executive Director Chris Toth. “Work like the Puerto Rico Forensic Science Project is central to NAAG’s mission of fostering local, state, and federal engagement, cooperation, and communication on legal and law enforcement issues.”
NAAG and ASCLD wish to thank the American Board of Forensic Anthropology for sending certified forensic anthropologists to Puerto Rico this week, and welcome the opportunity to continue working with these and other organizations and governments on this Project.
The Partnership and the MOU will be discussed at a press conference at the Governor’s mansion in Puerto Rico at 11:15 am AST/ 10:15 am EDT on January 14, 2019.
# # #
 The ASCLD Leadership Academy is a training program offered by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors for managerial personnel in forensic science laboratories. It is designed to deliver high-quality, cost-efficient training. The mission of the ASCLD Leadership Academy is to train managers to become leaders, and is designed specifically for newly appointed supervisors and supervisors.