By Yochelson, Roger
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin , Vol. 62, No. 4
On a hot, humid day in 1985, two men in an old sedan drive up to a small grocery in a Central American country. The driver waits in the car, while the other man walks into the store. Brandishing a handgun, he takes the money from the till, shoots the cashier in the neck and chest, and walks out to the street, where the busy foot traffic barely slows as he gets into the car and is driven away.
Because the store is on the outskirts of the city, homicide investigators take 40 minutes to arrive by bus. Meanwhile, the scene is overrun by curious citizens, journalists, volunteer firemen from competing companies vying for the bonus they receive for delivering bodies to particular funeral homes, and the uniform patrolmen from that area.
When investigators finally arrive, they arrange for everyone present on the street and in the store at the time of the crime to be taken in questioning. They conduct no preliminary interviews at the scene to determine whether the citizens to be questioned actually have any potential use or relevance.
Police personnel make no effort to preserve the crime scene or to collect and protect physical evidence. Within a week, investigators close the cursory investigation. They file a report and send it to the prosecutors and the court, where it will either die under the crushing backlog of files or be dismissed for lack of evidence.
Seven years later, criminals commit a nearly identical crime. This time, however, the uniform beat officers arrive immediately, cordon off the area, and ask potential witnesses preliminary questions. Homicide investigators travel to the remote area in one of several new police vehicles, with crime scene kits in hand. The judge responsible for overseeing the investigative phase of the case arrives a short time later. The police collect and tag evidence. They also complete detailed drawings and descriptions of the crime scene. That same day, investigators run a partial license plate number through a new records systems and contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) in the United States.
After several weeks of analyzing evidence and other information, the investigators identify two suspects. During subsequent warranted searches, the police retrieve what appear to be bloodstained clothes from the residence of one of the suspects. The crime lab, staffed with trained serologists, gets a positive match. With this evidence and corroborating witness testimony, police arrest the two suspects.
Followup investigations ordered by the judge tie the men to the 1985 grocery store robbery. Both men are convicted of robbery and first-degree murder, largely on the basis of the forensic evidence gathered. The same judge who presided over the 1985 investigation tries this case and compliments the police for the thoroughness of their work. What happened in the intervening years between these two cases is the story of the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program.
In 1986, Congress established the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to enhance investigative capabilities in democracies throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. ICITAP operates under the authority of the Deputy Attorney General of the United States and is fully funded by the Department of State through yearly grants from the Administration of Justice Programs. Congress authorized ICITAP for three primary reasons: To enhance the professional capabilities of Latin American and Caribbean law enforcement agencies to carry out investigative and forensic functions; to assist in the development of academic instruction for criminal justice personnels and to improve the administrative and management abilities of law enforcement agencies, especially those relating to career development, personnel evaluation, and internal discipline procedures.
ICITAP also operates under the authority of the Urgent Assistance for Democracy in Panama Act of 1990, which was designed to provide training in civilian law enforcement techniques for the police forces of Panama. …