Editorial: Flashback to 2009

The National Commission on Forensic Science is no more. The commission — borne by the uncertainty and media backlash in the wake of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report  — lasted for a little more than three years, held 13 meetings, and produced a list of recommendations and documents intended to strengthen the foundation of forensic science.

On April 10, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the charter for the NCFS would be allowed to expire. In its place, the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety’s Subcommittee on Forensics will take over the effort to “advance forensic science and help combat the rise in violent crime.” The move takes the evaluation of current forensic science methods, as well as recommendations for new policy, out of the hands of a unique and diverse group (NCFS) and places it in the hands of a department charged with the enforcement of the law (DOJ)... returning to an unsteady arrangement that was among the chief complaints of the 2009 NAS Report.

In a recent op-ed for theconversation.com, Suzanne Bell, professor of chemistry and forensic and investigative science at West Virginia University, wrote, “DOJ is not a science agency and thus is not the ideal place to address core scientific issues. The department is staffed with dedicated public servants and exemplary forensic scientists, but the independence of science (real and perceived) remains a concern.”

In its three short years, the NCFS made progress toward addressing those core scientific issues, but it was just a start. In a document published April 11, “Reflecting Back—Looking Toward the Future,” the NCFS members laid out some key points that they say have yet to be completed. These include foundational goals such as completing a survey to fully understand how law enforcement agencies perform forensic science analysis; operational goals such as providing guidance on evidence preservation and retention; and relational goals such as establishing a training curriculum for forensic science users (law enforcement, lawyers, judges, and the public).

Much remains to be done in order to pave “the path forward,” but it seems that for the time being we have been returned to the status quo, circa 2009.

—Kristi Mayo, editor
Evidence Technology Magazine

 
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