Crime labs under the gun to beat backlogs

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Crime labs under the gun to beat backlogs

 

The average smart American TV CSI can solve a case in 53 minutes. His real life contemporaries take weeks, months, even years, to finish a job. In parts of the USA as many as 70 per cent of all forensic science cases are described as “backlogged” or even “on the back burner”.

In the United Kingdom, the pioneering state-owned Forensic Science Service, using the National DNA Database of 4 million names, is threatened by gradual run down and privatisation, after losing two million pounds a month and missing some notable crimes by procedural delays.

Yet a dire warning about the dangers of commercialisation has come from the very first forensic scientist to collaborate with Sir Alec Jeffreys, after the discoverer of genetic fingerprinting. Peter Gill, now Professor of Forensic Genetics at the University of Oslo, told a British parliamentary investigation that commercial forensic science can conflict with the absolute requirement for open court proceedings.

“Courts will not accept secret tests that have not been subject to rigorous peer review and challenge”, he warned in his submission to the House of Commons Science Committee investigating the run down and commercialisation of the Forensic Science Service. He cited an October 2010 decision by the Court of Appeal, ordering a retrial in a murder case where the question of guilt had hung on commercially secret scientific identification of marks made by shoes.

Professor Gill said, “Commercialisation does not promote exchange of data, collaboration and convergence. Neither does it promote openness. In a recent court case (R v. T) the judge criticised the FSS for using an internally developed ‘commercial in confidence’ database on footwear marks. Paragraph 84 of the judgement states: ‘There is also the further difficulty, even if it [the database] could be used for this purpose, that the data are the property of the FSS and are not routinely available to all examiners. It is only available in a particular case to an examiner appointed to consider the report of an FSS examiner.’

But there may be a third way forward, for laboratories to achieve efficiency without contracting out scientific work to commercial laboratories.
Timothy D. Kupferschmid at Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City, Utah, argues that the straightforward organisation and management reforms in their Laboratory Lean/Six Sigma Practices improvement model “show real gains in production and efficiencies - all done without letting go or hiring more staff or with any new diagnostic equipment.”

With a US Department of Justice grant, the Louisiana State Police hired Sorenson Forensics to test the reforms.

 

(the complete article on page 2)

 

 


 

 

Photograph: DNA Laboratory

 

 



 

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