Wider Horizons
Environmental Science instructor Allan Orr is quick to note that he doesn’t come from an academic background – but that doesn’t stop him from applying his real world experience in the field to research that is now changing the way conservation officers do their jobs across North America.

Orr worked as a conservation officer in Saskatchewan for almost 20 years before coming to the college in 2001. He teaches classes in applied law enforcement, field forensics and environmental sampling techniques. His work in the field helped shape the research he now undertakes – topics ranging from understanding the unique “fingerprints” of bullets and casings used in illegal wildlife kills to studying deer pelvises to determine the age of the animals at the time of death.

What Orr didn’t expect from his research is that it would lead to being asked to co-author a white paper on international trade in endangered species and firearms for Interpol in March 2012. A white paper is an authoritative report that is used to help people – including lawmakers – make decisions that could lead to new legislation. And the article by Orr and Pete Gagliardi argues, among other things, for the creation of a database to share information about guns and bullets used in wildlife kills around the world.Image removed.

Such a database of firearm evidence would “offer wildlife law enforcement an opportunity to make better use of the information that they already possess,” the paper states. Orr and Gagliardi go on to explain that “This would make the best use of the evidence that is already being collected, similar to the way in which DNA and fingerprint evidence is already being used in human-related violent crimes in most parts of the world.”

Orr explains that the groundwork for this publication started about two years ago, when he undertook a study that shows that shells and bullets have enough identifiable markers that an enforcement officer, using a 10-power hand lens, could separate them into groups based on their unique characteristics.

“It’s like a fingerprint,” says Orr. “Instead of sending everything to the lab and waiting three or more weeks, we can look in the field and get a good indication of how many guns were used in a poaching incident, for example. It helps the officers get the rest of the story.”

This knowledge gives officers “reasonable and probable grounds to continue their investigation and it may allow them to seize firearms, take statements or do a search,” he adds.

Later, if a case goes to court, the bullets, casing and guns will still be sent to a ballistics lab for confirmation, Orr explains, but the knowledge that these small differences on casings and shells can be seen in the field can change the way officers go about doing their jobs.

In the fall of 2011, almost on a whim, Orr got in touch with the Montreal-based Forensic Technology, Inc. that was doing similar research on ballistics – but had at that point limited its databases to guns, bullets and casings used in crimes against humans, not crimes against wildlife.

“The company had just been asked by Interpol to write a white paper on the use of this technology on endangered species,” says Orr. After several conversations about the project and research with Stacy Stern, company representative for this area, Orr was asked to be a co-author.

“This stuff has the opportunity to change wildlife enforcement worldwide,” says Orr. “Wildlife trafficking is just behind drugs and arms as the most valuable when it comes to black market trading,” says Orr. “And they are using the same guns. But the risk is lower for wildlife trafficking.”

While thrilled with the publication, Orr is also pleased that the research has already had practical application for his students.

Last fall, after spending time in class discussing how one looks for the markings on the bullets and casings, a student returned home and did a “ride-along” with a conservation officer.

“They came across a dead elk,” Orr recalls. “The officer picked up some casings and said it looked like a certain kind of gun.

The student then looked at the casings and yes, it looks like that kind of gun was used – but the officers should be looking for two shooters, and two guns. It turns out the student was right – and the officer was stunned that a student could change the investigation after just a few hours of coursework and knowing what to look for.”Image removed.

To read Orr and Gagliari’s article go to: forensictechnology.com/publications.

Wider Horizons
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