Intelligence and the Value of Forensic Science

Intelligence and the Value of Forensic Science


Forensic Sciences, March 2024


Paul J. Speaker | West Virginia University


Recent research has seen a rapid expansion in the reference to front-end forensics as an indication of the untapped value of forensic science. While some of these contributions have centered on development of forensic intelligence from a single area of investigation, others call for a more fundamental change in the relationship between crime laboratories and policing, particularly relating early laboratory analysis with big datasets to provide leads to investigators. We highlight several recently implemented tactical strategies of crime laboratories that contribute to the body of forensic intelligence. Beyond the scientific gains from these tactical applications, the corresponding details on associated efficiencies, costs, time savings, and quality improvements offer insights towards patterns of success for the community of crime laboratories. Further details expand an interpretation of what constitutes success with an eye on the contributions of the crime laboratory towards public health, safety, and protection of the innocent in addition to societal gains from conviction of the guilty. The economic interpretation of the value provided by the forensic laboratory assists in the cost–benefit review of strategic and tactical decisions and supports the justification for laboratory public funding with measures of the return on investment from public support of the forensic laboratory. Examples of the cost savings from crimes avoided include the returns from testing the backlog of unsubmitted sexual assault kits with USD 81 of costs avoided for each USD 1 spent to high-efficiency laboratories achieving gains of USD 646 for each UD 1 spent on de novo case submissions. 

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence article was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. 

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

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