From 24 April to 26 May, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and the Kosovo Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) have organized a series of 11 workshops on the prevention of contamination and cross contamination of biological samples in the workplace for almost 180 police officers from Gjilan/Gnjilane, Mitrovica, Pristina, Pejë/Peć, and Prizren, and for IFM staff members.
Biological contamination and cross contamination can happen at a crime scene, when attending to a victim, conducting an exhumation or working in the autopsy room; these types of contamination can pose a serious health risk for those working on a crime scene, as well as increase the risk of loss of evidence integrity, thus possibly compromising the criminal investigation process.
EULEX’s Forensic Anthropologist, Luísa Marinho, who is embedded within the IFM to support the process of identification of missing persons, explained the idea behind the project: “When someone works in a certain context for some time, the awareness of the risks involved tend to decrease overtime, and the possibility to become more prone to neglect best practices increases. For that reason, we considered that it was important to raise awareness of this issue among professionals who deal with forensic casework, as they are most at risk of being contaminated, and may, unwillingly, compromise the integrity of biological evidence or even completely destroy it, due to cross-contamination.”
Through a theoretical approach and practical examples, the participants discussed and learned how to protect themselves and others from the health hazard of biological contamination; how to prevent the risk of loss of evidence caused by cross contamination; and the importance of wearing and properly disposing of protective equipment after use.
To further disseminate useful information, recommendations, and practical instructions, EULEX, in cooperation with IFM, also produced an informative leaflet to be distributed to IFM’s staff and at Kosovo Police stations targeting those police officers who might encounter or be called to a crime scene.
Emphasizing the importance of this training activity, one of the trainers and workshop co-designers, IFM Forensic Pathologist Bergita Curri, emphasized: “Biological contaminants are a constant threat to IFM staff and our colleagues from the Kosovo Police as the first responders to any crime scene. Through these trainings we wanted to remind them once again how important it is to protect themselves and, at the same time, to protect the evidence.” Curri also added: “The risk of being exposed and infected is always present. We need to behave and think as if every scene is contaminated. If we act with this mindset, it is easier to protect ourselves.”
Over the weeks, the different workshop sessions were delivered by several IFM’s experts, namely the IFM Director of Forensic Laboratories, Agron Thaqi, IFM Forensic Medicine Specialist, Naim Uka, IFM Head of Toxicology Laboratory, Flutra Goga-Bajrami, and IFM Forensic Medicine Specialist, Valon Hyseni.
The series of workshops was developed under the EULEX-supported small-scale project “Protect yourself, protecting the evidence: improving working procedures to prevent biological contamination,” aiming at helping professionals subject to the potential for biological contamination to be aware, trained and equipped to follow the best practices and to adhere to strict procedures to prevent contaminating evidence and being contaminated by biological evidence.