Got Evidence? How to Improve Forensic Science

On the third anniversary of the partnership between NIST and the Department of Justice to create the National Commission on Forensic Science and the Organization for Scientific Area Committees (February 18), NIST Fellow and Special Assistant to the Director for Forensic Science John Butler wrote in the NIST Taking Measure blog about efforts to improve the foundation of forensic science.

One such effort, wrote Butler, is to standardize the way practitioners communicate. “For example, the way things are now, two different forensics labs might look at the same evidence, but describe that evidence in completely different terms,” he wrote in the blog. “They may even come to different conclusions. That’s why we’re looking at developing a consistent terminology for forensic science so that scientists, law enforcement, and the courts can communicate clearly.”

Additionally, Butler said that the commission is working with the Bureau of Justice Statistics to determine how many law enforcement forensic units are operating in the United States. “We know that there are 400 accredited forensic labs—accredited means that an outside body has determined those labs meet certain standards and follow certain protocols—but there are also forensic units within police departments that do fingerprinting and ballistics work. These units are not typically accredited,” wrote Butler. “There are approximately 18,000 police departments in the U.S. Once we know how many police departments are conducting forensic examinations, we’ll need to develop standards for them and set up a means for accrediting them.”
Source: NIST
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Lifting Latent Fingerprints from Difficult Surfaces

ALMOST ANYONE can find, process, and lift a latent print that happens to be in a logical and obvious place like a door handle, a beer can, or a butcher knife. But sometimes, a latent print is not just sitting there in a logical and obvious place. Sometimes, you have to use your imagination to find the print and your skills to lift it.