Forensic Reforms Move Forward

By Michael Cunningham, March 27, 2014

The newly formed National Commission on Forensic Science recently held its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C. The Commission is a Federal Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and was developed through the DOJ and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with the intent of improving forensic science and addressing many of the recommendations made in the 2009 National Academy of Science Report on Forensic Science. 

crime-scene-1000px.jpgJudge Harry T. Edwards delivered the opening address at the meeting and said that “judicial review, by itself, will not cure the infirmities of the forensic community … The burden falls on the scientific community to get this done.” Getting that done is exactly the mandate of this newly formed commission, which includes several laser scanning champions, and now, after several years of planning, it has begun its work.

Shortly after the National Commission on Forensic Science meeting, the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) held their annual meeting in Seattle. At the meeting, representatives from NIST gave an informative presentation on a second prong in the effort to improve forensics. The presentation explained in-depth how NIST will establish independent scientific committees and subcommittees under a new NIST-administered organization. The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) will serve as guidance groups and will inherit the work that has been performed in the past by various Scientific Working Groups, which were sponsored by the FBI but will now see an end in funding from the DOJ. While both the National Commission on Forensic Science and OSAC will work to set standards and create best practices for forensics science, the commission is expected to focus on policy issues while the OSAC is more focused on individual forensic disciplines.  

NIST also recently announced that they expect to open the application process for members of the forensic science, criminal justice and academic research communities to join the new Organization of Scientific Area Committees this spring. The various committees and subcommittees will be staffed by members of the forensic community, with practitioners who are actually doing casework making up about 70 percent of the members and the remainder being 20 percent researchers and 10 percent research and development technology partners.

The five scientific area committees and their subcommittees are:

1. Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Crime Scene/Death Investigation

  • Medical/Legal Death Investigation Subcommittee
  • Fire Scene and Explosives Scene Subcommittee
  • Anthropology Subcommittee
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Subcommittee
  • Disaster Victim Identification Subcommittee
  • Dogs and Sensors Subcommittee

2. Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Biology/DNA

  • DNA Analysis 1 (Methods) Subcommittee
  • DNA Analysis 2 (Interpretation) Subcommittee
  • Wildlife Forensics Subcommittee

3. Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis

  • Controlled Substances Subcommittee
  • Geological Materials Subcommittee
  • Gun Shot Residue Subcommittee
  • Toxicology Subcommittee
  • Materials/Trace Subcommittee

4. Scientific Area Committee (SAC) IT/Multimedia

  • Imaging Technologies Subcommittee
  • Facial Identification Subcommittee
  • Speaker Recognition Subcommittee

5. Scientific Area Committee (SAC) Physics/Pattern

  • Firearms & Toolmarks Subcommittee
  • Footwear & Tire Tread Subcommittee
  • Friction Ridge Subcommittee
  • Questioned Documents Subcommittee

According to a NIST press release, the application will soon be available on the NIST forensic sciences website. From there, NIST will select more than 500 individuals to serve on OSAC committees and subcommittees. You can find more information about OSAC at

Leica Geosystems’ Public Safety Group has been closely monitoring the ongoing reform efforts that have been taking place on a national level within the forensics community. Through our attendance at meetings, efforts in the field and collaboration with organizations such as NIST, we will continue to cover important issues that impact forensics. 

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Mike Cunningham of Leica GeosystemsAbout the author: After a 26 year career, Mike Cunningham retired from the New York City Police Department in 2012 as a Detective 1st Grade and the senior ranking Investigator in the Crime Scene Unit. In addition to his many years of CSI experience, he was a forensics instructor for the NYPD and is a Certified Instructor for Department of Homeland Security course "Advanced Forensics for Hazardous Environments" and "Integrated Response to WMD Incidents" As a contractor for the U.S. State Department, he served as an International Police Instructor for "Forensic Examination of Terrorist Crime Scenes" delivered to US anti-terrorism partner nations. Mike served his country with distinction and professionalism for ten months at Ground Zero in the aftermath of September 11th. He is an IAI Certified Crime Scene Investigator and a New York State Certified Police Instructor.