Active Learning Discussion
Respond to the stated question, including any relevance to and implications on the field of criminal justice. Be sure to discuss the issue(s) to which the question pertains. Remarks can include your opinion(s), but must be based on experience, research, and/or prior learning. Use this exercise to foster a rich dialogue with your colleagues about issues that are important to the field of criminal justice.
During the span of the discussion, you must post to this board on four unique days.
Your initial posting must be no less than 200 words and is due no later than Thursday 11:59 PM EST/EDT. The day you post will count as one of your required four unique postings.
You will also be required to post responses to at least three of your colleagues’ initial postings. Responses must be no less than 100 words, be posted on at least three unique days, and are due no later than Sunday at 11:59 PM EST/EDT.
Do you believe that a “full service crime lab” should necessarily have each forensic discipline physically contained within the lab? Given the economic hardships that most labs are now experiencing, are there disciplines that are not utilized as frequently as others, say that of questioned documents examiner, that could be outsourced? Is there an obvious danger in outsourcing the examination and processing of evidence that may be utilized in a criminal prosecution?
• Benjamin Bowden posted Jul 29, 2019 1:14 AM
A full-service forensic laboratory would be great for locations that exhibits a need. Large scale municipalities such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Houston where the crime rate is exceptionally high, and where cold cases or recently discovered bodies with severe decomposition are likely to occur are some examples of areas that exhibit a need for full-service labs. Though, these areas are few and far between. Many labs could forgo some intricate forensic specialties such as odontology, and entomology; whereas, all labs should possess the more common disciplines required in criminal investigations such as anthropology and toxicology. Additionally, labs could cater to the needs of the agency who use more resources; for example, the FBI’s forensic lab should not forgo the expense of a forensic accountant or graphologist.
Outsourcing any forensic discipline can present dangers. Evidence could become altered during packaging or shipping, and evidence could get lost or stolen during transit. Though, dangers could be mitigated by creating a selective list of trusted business’ or organizations that possess the additional forensic capabilities the lab does not, and by properly vetting those business’ complete with criminal background checks, financial checks, and tax and credit checks. Additionally, by creating standards pertaining to packaging and shipping procedures, and by providing evidence custodians with adequate training in these matters the agency could reduce the change of alteration of forensic evidence. Lastly, by not using commercial shipping and receiving companies such as UPS, USPS, and FedEx the agency could reduce the change the evidence become lost or stolen. All law enforcement agencies and forensic laboratories should send and receive their evidence by sworn law enforcement officers and should reduce the number of items being sent/received to ensure the courier does not become overburdened by a large sum of packages.
Margaret Fitzgerald posted Jul 30, 2019 3:47 PM
It would be optimal for every city to have access to a full-service crime lab within its borders to process evidence. This capability would cut down on the time it takes to get results, not to mention it would be far easier for a law enforcement agency to deal with one lab rather than several. However, having the maximum capability is expensive and only a few cities could afford to fund such a lab. Advances in technology bring out newer test processes and equipment and labs are expected to be able to keep up with this expansion. The ‘CSI effect’ increases the expectations from courts and jurors to have the latest forensic data available.
What is more common is that various regions or states have a lab or a few labs that handle all of the work requested by public law enforcement. For instance, Virginia has four full-service state forensic laboratories located throughout the state that analyze forensic evidence. North Carolina has three full-service state labs that examine evidence from criminal investigations from local, state, federal, military, and railroad law enforcement within the state. These labs have redundant capabilities and provide their assigned regions the forensic expertise they require.
Some forensic labs are caught in a squeeze-play from overzealous evidence collection, increased requests for drug and rape kit analysis, restricted or shrinking funds, and growing expectations from the public to provide analysis as quickly and succinctly as we see on TV. Labs are left with the choice of outsourcing evidence analysis to other, often private, labs in order to keep the backlog manageable. It makes sense, on one hand, to use outside labs for the more infrequent testing such as questioned documents or explosive chemical analysis. But as the work gets diverted, so does the money that would have been given to the lab had they processed the evidence. Plus, outsourcing presents the problem of moving evidence from one location to another and there is little control on how that is to be handled. Regular shipping entities do not have climate control or direct point A to point B service. Special couriers add to the cost of outsourcing. Inconsistencies among labs can result in poor analysis. If the analyzed evidence is then turned over to someone else to do the interpretation, there is an increased chance of error since the interpreter may not have the details on how the evidence was handled or analyzed.
Recently, many labs have seen an exponential increase in requests for drug testing and their backlog is growing at the same rate. Virginia’s Forensic labs are admitting to a 140+ turnaround time for testing street drugs and controlled substances which is nowhere close to their ideal time of 30 days. In the meantime, the labs have hired and are training a dozen new technicians and they expect the backlog to decrease.
Green, F. (2019, May 8). State forensics lab is outsourcing some of its drug testing to help reduce large backlog. Retrieved from https://www.richmond.com/news/local/crime/state-forensics-lab-is-outsourcing-some-of-its-drug-testing/article_576eaf8d-d967-507b-8098-d678c9c51c04.html
North Carolina State Crime Lab. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.ncdoj.gov/crime-lab.aspx
Virginia Department of Forensic Science. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.virginia.gov/agencies/department-of-forensic-science/
• Carla Benjamin posted Jul 31, 2019 10:58 AM
When it comes to having a full-service crime lab, we have to first consider the services that embody it. One of the most important units that a crime lab should have is a Physical Science unit. This unit uses the principles of all things science to help identify and compare physical evidence. The next unit that applies the knowledge of biological science in order to investigate blood samples, bloody fluids, etc. is the Biology unit. Following the biology unit, a full crime lab should have a firearms unit. This unit’s sole responsibility is to investigate any and everything that correlates to firearms. The fourth unit, the document unit, provides skills needed for analysis of handwritings and other questionable documents that may come into place. Finally, the last unit is the photography unit. The photography unit is set in place so that they can apply their specialized techniques for recording and examining physical evidence. So, if we, in fact, take all of these units in mind that helps to make full-service crime lab, then I would say that a full-service crime lab should have all components considering that each one benefits in a crime scene investigation drastically.
However, when it comes to economic hardship, I can understand the importance of outsourcing when needed. I would, however, suggest that a full-service crime lab should be in the major cities. Therefore, if the smaller areas do not have units are needed to make their investigation successful, then they could reach out to the full-service labs for help. The only conflict that may come into place is the priority of cases, given that there will be multiple going on simultaneously. So, although there are a lot of pros and cons of not having a full-service crime lab, individuals have to be mindful of the optimal goal.
I personally do believe that there are dangers when it comes to outsourcing the examination of evidence. There have always been cases where evidence has been misplaced, mishandled, and swapped out. Oftentimes, when an agency outsources for the support it is the intent of having additional manpower or either utilizing the best services. In knowing that there may be potential dangers associated with outsourcing, as a certified investigator, if anything happens while the evidence is in their custody, they will have to answer for it.
(1) Richard Saferstein (2004). Criminalistics: an introduction to forensic science, 8th edition, p.3-23.