Home / Forensic Science in the News / Technology a vital tool in identifying remains

Technology a vital tool in identifying remains

It’s almost a cliché: The body was identified through dental records. That has been easier said than done in B.C. until very recently and is still problematic in much of Canada.

Canadian authorities have been far less precise about describing teeth than TV detective shows lead people to believe.

At one point, U.S. authorities suggested they were wary about counting Canadians as possibilities for unidentified human remains south of the border because there was such a big gap in relevant information available about their teeth, said RCMP Cpl. Kelly Risling of the B.C. Police Missing Persons Centre.

“Dental data is a cornerstone of forensic identification,” yet dental codes in Canada recorded just three kinds of teeth: missing, virgin and treated. The treatment was not specified as to the seven surfaces of each tooth, he said.

“I wanted to see our dental coding system brought more into the future, and now dental fillings are identified,” Risling said.

“Instead of just three codes, you’re going to have up to seven codes associated with a tooth,” he said.

Moreover, there is now a B.C. policy that dental information on missing persons must be sent to the provincial dental database and that dental profiles of unidentified remains be searchable.

“So we’re able to match forensically the dental information of missing persons against unidentified bodies. We’re the only province in Canada right now that’s doing that,” Risling said. “The system that was settled on was a system called Plass Data DVI. Plass is a disaster-victim identification software that is utilized by INTERPOL. It was utilized in Thailand following the tsunami in 2005. It proved to be an effective method of cataloguing dental information in order to perform dental comparisons with the goal of ultimately obtaining the identification of various unidentified victims.”

Dr. Tom Routledge, team leader for the British Columbia Forensic Odontology Response Team, or BC-FORT, is manager of the database, created about four years ago.

Outside B.C., there is no national repository of dental information, meaning that if the name of the dentist of a missing person or unidentified remains is not known, there isn’t much that can be done by way of identification.

Dr. David Sweet, a dentistry professor at the University of British Columbia affiliated with INTERPOL and head of the Bureau of Legal Dentistry, has also been enlisted to help identify missing persons.

According to UBC’s website, the bureau is “the first and only laboratory in North America that is dedicated to full-time forensic dentistry research, casework and graduate teaching.”

B.C. dentists are no longer left to guess what police need in terms of dental records.

Police now attend dental offices armed with a letter signed from Sweet asking them to turn over all original dental information to the officer in front of them. That data is couriered to BC-FORT and entered into the Provincial Dental Data Base for comparison against available dental profiles of unidentified bodies throughout B.C., Risling said. No dental information is entered on the Canadian Police Information Centre or the U.S. National Crime Information Centtre without the data having been reviewed and transcribed by BC-FORT, he said.

Dental records are just one improvement B.C. has made in recent years to speed identification of human remains.

The coroners service requires very particular types of information to make a targeted comparison. Risling developed an intake process that is now RCMP policy and is followed — but not mandated — by the majority of municipal police forces.

The intake policy states that every person missing for more than 90 days must have intake information submitted to the B.C. Police Missing Persons Centre. That includes a Missing Persons Query form — an MPQ — that contains date of birth, next of kin and considerable physical information, including surgeries, scars, tattoos, dental work and surgical implants that could be identified via manufacturers’ serial numbers.

Prior to the policy’s implementation, it was suggested that within 90 days, police get family DNA, ideally taken from a parent, and dental information. Now these efforts are a must-do, and Risling stressed that DNA collected for identification purposes will not be used in criminal cases.

Families of missing persons sometimes don’t realize the significance of providing this information, he said.

“They’re often reluctant and sometimes they downright refuse when it comes to providing such things as DNA.” Without such information, authorities must keep open files that could have been eliminated via DNA matches.

“And that is a huge draw on our resources,” Risling said.

Also mandatory are the GPS co-ordinates of where the missing person was last seen.

The MPQ for Kenneth Boseley was submitted this year.

Using the physical profile of the body and the geographical co-ordinates of View Street, the Identification and Disaster Response Unit of the B.C. Coroners Service was able to draw a correlation between a missing person’s last-known location and the location of this deceased individual, who was then identified, Risling said.

Fingerprints ultimately led to the identification, with considerable credit going to Det. Const. Chantal Ziegler, the Victoria police investigator working with the team.

After the correlation was drawn between the remains and the missing person, it was a matter of hunting down Boseley’s fingerprints that had been on file with local authorities.

One change Risling is still working on: Seeing whether a specialist can modify photos of an unidentified dead person sufficiently to warrant release to the public in the interest of identification. — Katherine Dedyna


© Copyright Times Colonist

About Odont1

Odont1
Odont1 is a seasoned forensic dentist, researcher and educator with an interest in progressing the science of the discipline while retaining those elements that are evidence based and useful to the judicial system at any level.

Check Also

Karla Brown – Forensic Files

The Karla Brown case and potential wrongful conviction of John Prante continues.  A bitemark assessed …

Leave a Reply