Report Date

Published September 2020

Introduction

DNA samples recovered from crime scenes often contain at least two contributors. Complex forensic DNA mixture interpretation can be challenging and requires computational advancements that support its use. Using forensic probabilistic tools to identify a DNA sample’s number of contributors (NOC) is crucial to accurately computing the weight of evidence for a person of interest. Drs. Catherine Grgicak and Desmond Lun at Rutgers University developed and validated a probabilistic system, “NOCIt”, that determines a probability distribution on the NOC given an STR electropherogram. NOCIt incorporates models of peak height (including degradation and differential degradation), forward and reverse stutter, and noise and allelic drop-out—in addition to accounting for the number of alleles, and thus is considered a fully continuous system. Dr. Grgicak and colleagues determined that NOCIt calculates accurate, repeatable, and reliable inferences about the NOC—significantly outperforming manual methods that rely on filtering the signal.

“One could argue that a better approach than opting for the minimum number of contributors to a mixture might be to determine the number of contributors best supported by the data.”

—Jaheida Perez, et al. Croat Med J. 2011; 52: 314–26
The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME)

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Additional Resources

Fast-track evaluation licenses of NOCIt

2018 NIJ R&D Symposium Series: Forensic Biology webinar

Validation and tutorial of NOCIt for determining the number of contributors

Just DNA mixture interpretation podcast

Report Date

Published August 2020

Introduction

As a key stakeholder in the criminal justice system, forensic laboratories must track, analyze, and report on evidence related to each request for service they receive.  This is no easy task for laboratories: according to a 2014 survey by the Department of Justice, publicly funded crime laboratories received nearly 3.8 million requests for forensic services, with an average of 93,000 requests per laboratory.[1]  The high number of caseloads necessitate the use of technology to ensure integrity of evidence is maintained and laboratories are operating efficiently.  Laboratory information management system (LIMS) were developed to solve many of these challenges.  LIMS is a database management system (DBMS) that collects, creates, and stores all data related to forensic examinations in a crime laboratory. LIMS enables the forensic laboratory to efficiently manage evidence and resources and can be scaled to meet the demands of federal, state, county, and municipal laboratories.

This landscape report provides crime laboratory directors, crime laboratory personnel, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders and end users with the following:

– Background information on LIMS and their integration into the laboratory evidence management process

– The product landscape of select commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) LIMS products

– Considerations for implementing or updating internally developed and COTS LIMS

– Use profiles from end users illustrating best practices and lessons learned from incorporating a LIMS into the laboratory workflow.

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Additional Resources

Census for Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories: Resources and Services, 2014

Report to Congress: Needs Assessment of Forensic Laboratories and Medical Examiner/Coroner Offices

 

Report Date

July 2020

Introduction

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and its Forensic Technology Center of Excellence hosted the National Opioid and Emerging Drug Threats Policy and Practice Forum on July 18–19, 2019, in Washington, DC. The forum explored ways in which government agencies and programs, law enforcement officials, forensic laboratory personnel, medical examiners and coroners, researchers, and other experts can cooperate to respond to problems associated with drug abuse and misuse. Panelists from these stakeholder groups discussed ways to address concerns such as rapidly expanding crime laboratory caseloads; workforce shortages and resiliency programs; analytical challenges associated with fentanyl analogs and drug mixtures; laboratory quality control; surveillance systems to inform response; and policy related to stakeholder, research, and resource constraints. The NIJ Policy and Practice Forum built off the momentum of previous stakeholder meetings convened by NIJ and other agencies to discuss the consequences of this national epidemic, including the impact it has had on public safety, public health, and the criminal justice response. The forum discussed topics at a policy level and addressed best practices used across the forensic community.

Click here to read the full Report 

Click here to view the archived Forum

About the Authors/Editors:

Jeri D. Ropero-Miller, PhD, F-ABFT is the senior director of the Center for Forensic Sciences (CFS) at RTI International and the Project Director for NIJ’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE).

Crystal M. Daye, MPA, manages the Investigative Science Program (ISP) at RTI and conducts research on law enforcement operations, forensics, and improving the criminal justice response to victims of crime.

Sarah Norsworthy, MS is a research forensic scientist in RTI’s CFS and serves as a DNA subject matter expert and project manager for the FTCOE.

Paige Presler-Jur, MS is a Research Public Policy Analyst in RTI’s ISP and supports research initiatives addressing health, social, and justice issues in the contexts of substance misuse and abuse community programs, sexual assault case reform, forensics, and multidisciplinary approaches.

Rebecca Shute, MS is an innovation analyst for RTI’s Innovation Advisors and supports the reports development and technology transition activities on behalf of the NIJ’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence.

Hope Smiley-McDonald, PhD, directs the Investigative Sciences program and conducts research on forensic agency operations and needs, drug surveillance, and social and justice issues in the context of substance use.

 

Report Date

July 2020

Introduction

On February 27 and 28 of 2020, The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), in partnership with the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCoE) at RTI International, convened the first meeting of the Terrestrial LiDAR Scanning (TLS) Working Group for Criminal Justice Applications. The TLS Working Group (TLSWG) will support the NIJ-FTCoE’s goals of improving the practice and strengthening the impact of forensic science through rigorous technology corroboration, evaluation, and best practices dissemination.

While the use of this technology is increasing in criminal justice applications, no standardized, vendor agnostic guidelines for use are currently available for end users. The goal of the working group is to develop resources that reflect consensus-based best practices to standardize and improve the use and application of TLS in crime scene documentation and reconstruction. These deliverables will help establish a minimum standard for capture, processing, analysis, visualization, presentation, and storage of TLS data in a forensic context. These resources are intended to promote uniform implementation and use of TLS technology in practice. This will ultimately improve the practitioners’ ability to attain scientifically supportable conclusions from TLS data, ensure effective quality management procedures, and improve presentation of this information to stakeholders, including law enforcement, investigators, and the courts (e.g. prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges, and juries).

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Resources

 

A Landscape Study of 3D Crime Scene Scanning Devices

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Webinar: Utility of 3D Scanning Technologies Workshop Archival

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Report Date

May 2020

Introduction

Impressions of shoe and tire tracks are common types of evidence found at a crime scene that be used to evidentially link a suspect to a crime or generate important investigative leads in a case. However, analysis of these footwear outsole and tire tread designs is challenging due to the variations in product design, impression quality, and surrounding environment of the impressions. Proper collection of the evidence is often limited by the crime scene investigator’s skill level, the quality of the equipment, and the amount of time available to accurately photograph and cast the impressions. Dr. Song Zhang at Purdue University is developing a 3D imaging system for footwear and tire impressions to overcome these challenges. This system is based on an optical 3D scanning system that uses a binary defocusing technique and an auto-exposure control method to capture highly detailed images.

“Purdue’s 3D scanner promises to be a game changer as it allows the fast collection of the 3D detail of impressions with minimal training.”

—James Wolfe, Alaska State Crime Laboratory, retired

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Resources

 

Webinar: Portable Advanced 3D Imaging for Footwear and Tire Impression Capture

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Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group

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Researcher’s Role in Technology Transition

 

Report Date

March 2020

Introduction

Research and development (R&D) plays a key role in improving the practice of forensic science. The knowledge, tools, and methods developed by researchers can help improve the objective collection, analysis, and interpretation of evidence. Adoption into practice is the end goal and true value of all R&D, and technology transition is critically important for the forensic community. However, successful technology transition often requires researchers to interact with users and connect to the forensic community far earlier than they might have anticipated. Forensic stakeholders can help researchers better understand a need, consider the realities of use in the field, or highlight realities specific to use in the criminal justice context. This in-brief provides an overview of the researcher’s role in driving technology transition and summarizes both the characteristics of successfully transitioned technologies and the roles of forensic stakeholders in moving research to practice.

“We need strong science to support the fair and impartial administration of justice. Researchers can positively impact the operations in the field.”

              —Lucas Zarwell, Director, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences, National Institute of Justice

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Resources

 

The FTCoE supports researchers throughout the technology transition process.
The in-brief titled Innovation in Forensics: A Community Effort, provides an overview
of how the FTCoE can help researchers at every step of the technology transition process

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NIJ R&D Portfolio Management and Technology Transition Support

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About NIJ’s Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences

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Technical Note: Modifications to Capillary Microextraction in Volatiles (CMV) for the Extraction of Ignitable Liquid Residues (ILRs) 

Report Date

March 2020

Description

This report summarizes the development and implementation of a novel sampling device (capillary microextraction of volatiles [CMV]) invented in the Almirall research group at Florida International University for ILR extraction as an alternative to current techniques. The versatility of the CMV device has the potential for field sampling applications when coupled with portable analytical systems, and it has been successful in the following studies: sampling volatile compounds generated by explosives, detecting marijuana plants, detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from amphetamines, analyzing breath samples, sampling organic gunshot residue (OGSR) VOCs, and sampling BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and the three xylene isomers) compounds in environmental studies. This report is intended for forensic practitioners who want to better understand newly developed technologies and their use and application to forensic casework.

Click here to read the full Technical Note 

Resources

 

Success Story: NIJ and Jensen Hughes: Advancing the
Forensic Analysis of Ignitable Liquid Fuel Fires.

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Fire Debris Analysis is Not Black Magic!

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TECHNICAL NOTE: Detection of Organic Gunshot Residue
Using Capillary Microextraction of Volatiles with Cyrofocusing

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Se-

Read More Success Stories Here

Report Date

March 2020

Introduction

Crime laboratories are expected to provide consistent and high-quality services across multiple domains to criminal justice stakeholders, even though these laboratories may have limited resources and constrained budgets. Operational practices can influence the laboratory’s ability to provide these services efficiently. However, assessing the efficiency of these practices requires the ability to both track performance metrics over time and compare metrics with similar laboratories, which may be resource intensive. Project FORESIGHT is a business-oriented self-evaluation that provides laboratory managers with actionable insights into the performance of their laboratory. These metrics are broken down by investigative area and are based on analysis of a rich set of multiyear data from a growing number of U.S. laboratories. This success story provides an overview of Project FORESIGHT and how it brought value to two early adopter laboratories in the United States: Orange County Crime Laboratory and Denver Police Department, Forensics and Evidence Division.

“Iron sharpens iron. Project FORESIGHT is built on collaboration among peers, and enhanced with academic and economic support—it provides actionable and realistic data to assess how well a lab is performing.”
               – Bruce Houlihan, Director, Orange County Crime Laboratory

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Resources

 

Project Quadrupol: Development of a Benchmarking Model for Forensic Laboratories

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Project FORESIGHT Annual Report, 2017-2018

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The Jurisdictional Return on Investment from Processing the
Backlog of Untested Sexual Assault Kits

Read More

The Hidden Costs of the Opioid Crisis and the Implications
for Financial Management in the Public Sector

Read More

2019 National Opioid and Emerging Drug Threats Policy and Practice Forum

Read More

Forensic Advancement: Just FORESIGHT on Sexual Assault Kits

Read More

Drugs: Just Opioid Financial Burden on Crime Labs

Read More

Workforce Calculator Project

Read More

 

Jeri Ropero-Miller and Paul Speaker

 

Report Date

Volume 1, 2019, Pages 227-238

Abstract

The November 2017 release of the Council of Economic Advisers’ White House report on the opioid crisis suggests that prior consideration of expenses severely underestimated the economic costs of the opioid crisis. When corrected for these losses, the annual cost from the opioid crisis leapt nearly 600%. The cost to the criminal justice system was estimated at $8 Billion of which $270 million is borne by crime laboratories. However, laboratory budgets have not grown at a rate capable of meeting this increased demand for forensic science services. The hidden costs of the opioid crisis borne by the forensic crime laboratories comes as funds are diverted in the laboratory to meet the increased demands for services in drug chemistry and toxicology. Dramatic increases in turnaround times across other areas of investigation continue to grow as the crisis accelerates.

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This report was published in RTI Press, a global publisher of peer-reviewed, open-access publications on a broad range of topics. The areas of focus reflect RTI’s multidisciplinary research, our expertise in social and laboratory sciences, and our extensive international activities. Since 2008, the RTI Press has produced more than 100 publications.

Report Date

February 2019

Abstract

The 2019 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Forensic Science Research and Development (R&D) Symposium is intended to promote collaboration and enhance knowledge transfer of NIJ-funded research. The NIJ Forensic Science R&D Program funds both basic or applied R&D projects that will (1) increase the body of knowledge to guide and inform forensic science policy and practice or (2) result in the production of useful materials, devices, systems, or methods that have the potential for forensic application. The intent of this program is to direct the findings of basic scientific research; research and development in broader scientific fields applicable to forensic science; and ongoing forensic science research toward the development of highly discriminating, accurate, reliable, cost-effective, and rapid methods for the identification, analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence for criminal justice purposes.

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