Friday, September 11, 2009

Cuba's odorology laboratory

Cuba extols the successes of its police sniffer-dog program, but U.S. experts question its broad use and its reliance on an aging, bottled collection of scents.
BY JUAN O. TAMAYO | Friday, 09.11.09 | Miami Herald

A Cuban police dog sniffs a murder weapon and is then set to sniff six bottles holding the scents of suspects, just some of the thousands of odor swabs warehoused in a Havana police building. ``Down with Raúl'' appears on a wall, and police put a dog on the writer's scent.

Cuba indeed puts police dogs to work in an eerily broad range of cases, not only finding fugitives and illegal drugs but warehousing the bottled scents of thousands of suspects so the canines can later identify criminals and political dissidents.

Havana has proudly and publicly claimed that crime investigators regularly solve cases with dogs and human scents gathered from crime scenes and suspects, which it argues are almost as unique as fingerprints.

``In the past 12 years, there have been more than 3,000 cases in which, based on scent, it has been possible to establish the identity'' of criminals, Rafael Hernández, a criminology professor at Havana University, wrote in a 2003 paper titled La Odorología Criminalística en Cuba.

He went on to describe details of the police dog program, among them the preservation of scents in pickle-like jars, the warehousing of the scents for up to five years and their use in olfactory versions of line-ups, with six bottles instead of suspects.

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