Fighting crime in the lab
The brave police officers on the frontlines of protecting our communities often get all the recognition. But behind the scenes, in the laboratories of the South African Police Service (SAPS), you will find scientists who play an equally important role in fighting crime. Meet Captain Veshalin Moodley, a scientific superhero who goes beyond the call of duty every day.
Moodley, 27, is soft-spoken and polite. You would never think that under this gentle demeanour, you would find one of the police service’s most tenacious and hard-working scientists.
The talented young captain is a forensic analyst working from the SAPS Forensic Science Laboratory headquarters in Silverton, Pretoria. In just four years of employment with the SAPS, Moodley has won an incredible 11 awards. He was promoted to the rank of captain in January this year, and a month later received the ultimate recognition by winning the SAPS National Excellence Award for Forensic Science Laboratory Employee of the Year.
Passion for science
The Durban-born Moodley has always had a passion for science, but also wanted to find a way to serve the community. After graduating from the University of KwaZulu-Natal with majors in chemistry and microbiology, joining the police service as a scientist was a natural career path for him.
“I have always been passionate about both science and serving the community. So after I got my degree, becoming a forensic analyst for the police was perfect for me. It has allowed me to carry out my ultimate dream by combining my two passions,” says Moodley.
Working in the lab, Moodley analyses primer residue samples collected at the scene of serious crimes such as murders, attempted murders, hijackings, house robberies and possession of illegal firearms. When a gun is fired, traces of gunpowder are often left at the crime scene, or on the clothes of victims or suspects. These tiny traces often hold crucial keys to solving the crime, especially when paired with evidence from other forensic services such as ballistics analysis.
“Evidence cannot be looked at in isolation, so everything must be looked at holistically, working with other departments, in order to piece together the puzzle,” Moodley explains.
In the 2017/18 financial year, Captain Moodley completed all of the 296 cases assigned to him, with an error rate of zero percent.
An incredible 99 percent of these cases were finalised within 10 working days. He is also the only police officer to have achieved over 90 percent for four consecutive courses presented by the South African Paint Manufacturer’s Association. Paint analysis is used in cases such as hit-and-runs, where the paint on vehicles and victims can be compared.
Aiming higher than awards
Moodley says that achieving recognition for his hard work has been an honour, but this is not the main goal for him.
“Getting the awards is fantastic, but it goes much further than that. When I have helped to get criminals prosecuted with my evidence, this is highly rewarding. It is also about being able to serve the country and playing a role in combatting crime – that is what is really important to me.”
Moodley’s motivation and dedication have been key to his success.
“This is not an easy field to be in. You’re looking at some terrible crimes, and you just have to be motivated, determined and carry on doing your best for your country,” he says, adding that mentorship and support have also been vital.
“I work with some of the top scientists in the country and we all assist each other. You also need a good support system. I could not have got where I am without the incredible support of my management, colleagues, family, friends and fiancé.”
The SAPS says that Moodley has shown exceptional dedication.
“When comparing the performance of Captain Moodley to the average performance of the employees within the section it becomes evident how productive he is. His passion and dedication has improved his credibility as a forensic analyst in terms of a fast turnaround time, high production in casework and having a zero percent error rate,” said the SAPS.
SAPS national spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo says that it is important to recognise the work of employees who always strive to exceed expectations.
“The SAPS management strives towards perfection and professionalism within the SAPS. One of the ways of doing this is to instil a competitive spirit among our workforce and reward those who go above and beyond the call of duty and/or excel within their respective work environments.”
Captain Moodley says that he is aspiring to play a greater role in the management and mentoring of new scientists coming into the SAPS.
“Because I was promoted to captain earlier this year, I am already taking on more managerial functions such as instrument management and training. I have more responsibility in training analysts and the people who collect samples at crime scenes. I hope to stay within the SAPS, move upwards and continue fighting crime.”
Captain Moodley reminds public servants to always be an inspiration to others.
“It is your ultimate goal to serve the community. Always be motivated, be ready to motivate others and be an inspiration,” he says.
How is a crime scene analysed?
The forensic department’s crime scene manager (CSM) takes control of the scene and assigns crime scene technicians and an investigating officer.
The crime scene must remain undisturbed as the CSM decides which experts will be needed for the particular case.
A photographer documents the scene before anyone touches anything.
Crime scene technicians or the investigating officer go through the scene to collect evidence such as blood, fingerprints, hair fibres, primer residue, bullet cartridges or anything else of significance.
In murder cases, the body is taken to the morgue and examined by a forensic pathologist.
All collected evidence is preserved in evidence collection kits and sent to the forensic science laboratory for analysis by various experts.
All of the evidence and analysis is submitted to be presented in court.