Crime Trackers

Feb 12, 2014 4:35 PM by Lupita Murillo

Look inside Border Patrol's high-tech lab

TUCSON - Who would think a plastic bag would be a valuable piece of evidence to lock away violent criminals. It is, at the newly created joint Arizona Forensics Center.

It's the first lab of its kind for the Border Patrol in the nation and its here in Tucson.

News 4 Tucson Crime Trackers was allowed access into the lab. The first time ever the public gets a rare opportunity to see how the Border Patrol is working to get the most violent offenders off the street.

The operations room is where evidence gathered in the field is brought to be photographed, catalogued and processed.

"The importance of the whole laboratory in general is to develop the best latent print evidence," officials said.

Evidence to identify the guilty but also to exonerate the innocent.

This facility goes way beyond a typical law enforcement lab. It has cutting edge technology that can identify fingerprints and reach out miles into the desert to nab dangerous criminals known as Rip Crews. People who rip off the drug runners and innocent bystanders like hikers and hunters.

Peter Hermansen is the agent in charge of the Intelligence Unit. He says Rip Crews, "are individuals that pose the greatest risk to the general public and to our agents out in the field. And they are one of our highest priorities in the Tucson sector."

December 15, 2010, Agent Brian Terry was murdered by a Rip Crew in Santa Cruz County. The lab didn't exist then.

Two years later, out in the west desert of the Tohono O'Odham Nation, agents found five AK-47's, 25 loaded magazines, and tactical vests. Three people were arrested, convicted and are now in prison. Border Patrol is working closely with other other federal agencies to dismantle and disrupt these violent crews.

Hermansen says, "We are successfully prosecuting those Rip Crews with significantly enhanced penalties because of the ability that we have now at forensically prosecuting these cases."

Some of the new technology being used, "We now use super glue fuming with lasers with dicings, with additional enhancements techniques with alternate light sources and new imaging capture equipment."

Techniques used in eight labs across the country . But it would take weeks sometimes months for the results. Now it's done in less than a day. But even with the latest technology it's the human eye that completes the process.

So by combining high tech equipment and people the Forensics Lab and its partners will be able to track down more criminals to protect the public.

If you have a story for Crime Trackers, email crimetrackers at kvoa.com.

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