Editorial: Moving along the path...

A full four years ago, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released its report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. The report’s focus on the “badly fragmented” forensic science system in the United States caused an initial shakeup in the forensic community, with many questions of “what’s next”?

This February, we got a look at three good examples of the impact the NAS Report has had on forensic science:

  • Biological Evidence Preservation—The 2009 NAS Report stated, “In order for qualified forensic science experts to testify competently about forensic evidence, they must first find the evidence in a usable state and properly preserve it… DNA tests performed on a contaminated or otherwise compromised sample cannot be used reliably to identify or eliminate an individual as the perpetrator of a crime.”

The Technical Working Group on Biological Evidence Preservation first convened in August 2010 in an effort to address that concern. At press time, the working group was putting the finishing touches on a guide, The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers. The document provides a concise set of recommendations that will help all evidence handlers—from crime scene to courtroom—better understand how to package and preserve biological evidence. You can read more about the working group and its new handbook in this issue.

  • Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) Interoperability—The NAS committee wrote in 2009: “There is no doubt that much good work has been done in recent years aimed at improving the interoperability of AFIS implementations and databases, but the committee believes that...greater progress needs to be made toward achieving meaningful, nationwide AFIS interoperability.”

In the September-October 2011 issue of ETM, we reported on three efforts that were underway to improve AFIS interoperability (“Share Alike: AFIS Interoperability”). One of those efforts was to develop specifications designed to enable vendor-neutral AFIS interoperability. This February, three technical specifications were published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that provide the framework for true interoperability. You can find links to all of these documents here.

  • National Commission on Forensic Science—Perhaps the biggest news came February 15 with the announcement that the Department of Justice and NIST will be partnering to establish a National Commission of Forensic Science. The commission will be composed of approximately 30 members who will “consider guidance on practices for federal, state, and local forensic science laboratories developed by groups of forensic science practitioners and academic researchers administered by NIST.” The move comes as a direct result of the 2009 NAS Report’s call for the “creation of the National Institute of Forensic Science (NFS) to oversee and direct the forensic science community.”

With these major developments, the forensic science community will undoubtedly continue to ask “what’s next”—but also will continue to participate in strengthening the system as it moves forward on this path to improvement. We’ll be watching and reporting along the way.

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Evidence Technology Magazine

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