Forensics Reform: Will CSIs Soon Be Subjected to New Standards?
Oct. 29, 2013 – Since 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences recommended reforms in its report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States; A Path Forward,” practitioners have been bracing themselves for anticipated changes in how crime scene evidence is documented, analyzed and processed, but the reforms recommended in the report have been slow to come. Now new legislation is set to be introduced in Congress. Will it bring the changes so many in forensics have been anticipating?
An Uncertain Timeline for Change
Spurred in part by the release of the NAS report, forensics legislation was drafted and introduced in Congress by Senator Leahy of Vermont in 2012, but it was never acted upon. However, a National Commission on Forensic Science was established under the auspices of the Department of Justice and National Institute of Standards and Technology with a mandate to develop policy recommendations on improving forensic science for the Attorney General. Although a notice went out in February 2013 soliciting practitioners from the forensic science community to participate in the commission, there has been no announcement to date as to who will serve on the commission or when their activities are expected to begin.
During the IAI conference in Providence, RI, in August 2013, Senator Leahy’s Senior Counsel, Chan Park, announced that Senator Leahy planned to re-introduce his forensics reform legislation in September 2013, this time with the bipartisan support of Senator Cornyn. However, that was before the Congressional stalemate that led to a 16-day shutdown of the federal government in early October. It is unclear when discussions on this matter will resume.
Even though official action has moved at what seems like a glacial pace, it is inevitable that changes will eventually be mandated on a national level. When they occur, these changes will affect the work of CSIs and anyone else charged with collecting and processing evidence.
A Proactive Approach to Forensic Science
In anticipation of these changes, forward thinking practitioners have adopted a proactive approach in addressing issues that were pointed out in the NAS report. Some CSI units are taking steps to formalize training, create or revise standard operating procedures, and invest in modern technologies that improve their forensic capabilities. Agencies that are proactive in these efforts will stay ahead of the curve and, as a result, will likely be in a good position to ensure that their operations can continue in an uninterrupted fashion when change becomes mandatory.
Leica Geosystems’ Public Safety Group will continue to monitor issues that have the potential to affect the field and provide information on future developments. You can read more about Senator Leahy’s proposed legislation and download the text of the bill here. To read the announcement of the National Commission on Forensic Science, go here.