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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, March 14, 2005

The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.

Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac

Fingerprints Help ID Suspect SAGINAW NEWS, MI - Mar 11, 2005 ...police spent the past several months comparing fingerprints from the scene to those of suspects in other robberies...

2 Digits or 10? FCW.COM - Mar 7, 2005 ...inspector general warned of risks from fingerprint systems that are not interoperable...

State Crime Labs Have Brain Drain   SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, UT - Mar 6, 2005 ...with low pay, scientists are fleeing to the private sector...

Official Accused of BCA Lab Theft   PIONEER PRESS, Min  - Mar 5, 2005  ...a top-ranking supervisor in Minnesota's crime laboratory has been arrested on suspicion of stealing cocaine from the lab...


Last month, a Bureau Justice Statistics Bulletin detailed a 2002 census of publicly funded crime laboratories.  Some interesting statistics are found within:

Crime laboratory directors in 2002 expected their latent print analysts, on average, to process 264 requests per FTE examiner.  Overall, latent print examiners in the Nation's crime laboratories exceeded expected performance in processing latent print requests.

Labs performing latent print analysis estimated that about 300 additional FTEs would have been needed to achieve a 30-day turnaround on all such requests received during 2002. These additional FTEs represent a 51% increase in FTEs that were currently performing latent print services. The estimated cost of these additional FTEs exceeds $10.4 million, with a median cost of $69,400 per lab.

Other general highlights include:

• A total of 351 publicly funded forensic crime laboratories operated in the United States as of yearend 2002. This total includes 203 State or regional labs, 65 county, 50 municipal, and 33 Federal labs.

• A typical laboratory in 2002 had 2 managers, 2 secretaries or clerks, 12 analysts, and 2 technicians. The median laboratory operating budget in 2002 was $1.3 million.

• A typical laboratory in 2002 started the year with a backlog of about 390 requests, received 4,900 requests, and completed 4,600 requests.

• About half of all requests in 2002 were in the area of controlled substances.

• Nearly all laboratories employed standard protocols for DNA testing (98%), controlled substances (98%), and latent prints (97%).

• Examiners in the Nation’s crime laboratories processed requests at or above 90% of the expected examiner averages in 8 of 10 categories of forensic services.

• Forty-one percent of publicly funded labs in 2002 reported outsourcing one or more types of forensic services to private labs. Overall, labs outsourced nearly 240,000 requests for forensic services.

• Ninety-one percent of outsourced requests were DNA-related, including nearly 13,000 casework requests and 205,000 convicted offender samples in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The median cost of outsourcing one CODIS sample was $30.

• Sixty-one percent of the labs are accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Lab Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB). An additional 10% are accredited by some other organization.

• Fifty-five percent of non-Federal labs received some funding from grants in 2002.

• About half (52%) of publicly funded labs in 2002 had resources dedicated to training. Twelve percent had resources dedicated to research.

The entire report is available at:


Last week, we looked at further clarification from ASCLD-LAB on what is required for latent print examination documentation.  This week, Greg Laskowski shares his perspective on the CSI effect:


The CSI Effect:  Good or Bad for Forensic Science


Gregory E. Laskowski, BS, MPA

Supervising Criminalist
Kern County Regional Crime Lab
Bakersfield, CA 

It seems that much discussion today, both in legal circles and in the realm of forensic science is directed toward the CSI Effect.  What is the CSI Effect?  The answer to this question is not simple.  Rather, it is complex because the effect is not limited to the courtroom or the crime laboratory.  It apparently has pervaded into the investigation of crime, from the actions of the first responder to processes of investigation of the detective.  The CSI effect is often attributed to the CBS television’s most watched crime drama CSI Crime Scene Investigations and the spin-off series CSI: Miami and CSI: New York.  But, in reality the CSI effect can trace roots to other crime and legal dramas such as Law and Order, Crossing Jordan, and NAVY NCIS.  However, the CSI effect may also share its roots in the docudramas such as Court TV’s Forensic Files A&E Network’s Cold Case Files, and other shows of like genre.  Albuquerque Tribune reporter Joline Gutierrez Kreuger aptly describes the it as, “A phenomenon inspired by the CBS hit show they (attorneys on both sides) worry gives jurors unrealistic expectations of how conclusively forensic evidence determines innocence or guilt.”

The original CSI television show is now in it’s fifth season.  As a result of the popularity of the show and others of it’s kind, there continues to be discussion in national newspapers including USA Today, on internet forums, such as forens-l, professional journals  including American Bar Association Journal, and now an upcoming forum to be included in the program of the International Association’s 2005 meeting in Dallas in August of 2005.  Most of the discussion is centered on the legal aspects- on how juries may be swayed by something they may have seen on a particular episode, that they may have unrealistic expectations if the prosecutions do not present forensic evidence or they may be too ready to accept scientific evidence thus putting the defense at a decided disadvantage.   In an interview with ABA Journal reporter Mark Hansen, this author conceded the show has a lot of detractors in the profession, but said the show's creators have tried hard to be as faithful to the facts as possible. "This is a crime drama loosely based on some actual case events," he says. "And the key word here is 'drama.'  So now there appears to be a sense of desperation on the part of the courts in determining what role the CSI effect plays on juries.  Now jury questionnaires are being developed to see if there is such an effect and what role it would play in a juror’s decision making process.  The underlying issue is whether the CSI effect alters the outcome of a trial.

There are other aspects of the CSI Effect that remain to be discussed.  For instance how does the phenomenon affect the actual criminal investigation?  Since these new television shows have exposed the general public to techniques of gathering physical evidence both in the classical sense and in the use of high technology, police officers are now asking what they can do to improve the success of gathering such evidence and using it to determine how the crime was committed in addition to linking that evidence to the perpetrator.  The advent of DNA testing for forensic purposes alone has dramatically changed the methodologies employed in gathering and testing physical evidence.  A new appreciation of evidence collection techniques, and the awareness of potential contamination is the result.  The television shows not only make the public more aware of the power of the evidence but today’s criminal investigators as well.  Detectives today are reviewing the old or cold cases to see if they can use the new technology to assist in solving those crimes.  The crime laboratory now more than ever is becoming an active partner in the investigation of crime instead of just an adjunct in putting together a case for trial.

The CSI effect can in many instances be seen in operation of this country’s crime laboratories.  It has been seen both as a blessing and a curse.  On the negative side, labs have been burdened with unreasonable expectations on the part of the police, the attorneys, and the public.   The hour-long television shows run about forty-eight minute, thus it is unrealistic to expect an actual crime to be solved in that period of time.  The shows tend to give an impression that an investigator can get DNA case evidence analyzed during his or her lunch hour, when in reality such evidence may take a laboratory weeks or months to analyze.  This is usually not a result of the technology but the allocation of a laboratory’s resources both in terms of equipment and personnel.  Today most crime laboratories are understaffed, underfunded and overworked.

Many laboratories and universities are now becoming inundated with application requests for crime scene investigators, those people who specialize in documenting and gathering evidence at crime scenes.  Many want to be criminalists, scientists who analyze physical evidence using scientific methods, prepare reports and testify to their conclusions in courts of law.  Unfortunately, for many of those people they lack the necessary scientific coursework to be employed in that capacity.  It is only now that many universities are offering programs in forensic sciences, thus a natural lag time exists when those students can enter the workforce.  Currently, most crime scene work and forensic case analysis is the result of on the job training mostly done by the crime laboratory or workshops offered by a few of the professional societies or associations whose memberships are made up of current or retired crime laboratory staff.  The CSI effect has brought the students to the door.  Now, it is up to the institutes of higher learning to take that energy and enthusiasm for crime detection and turn it into a positive.  The crime laboratories because of casework responsibilities can no longer afford to be the training ground for the new breed of crime scene investigators.

How else has the CSI effect been a positive force for crime laboratory?  There are specific examples.  For instance the CSI program has created a special endowment for the California Forensic Science Institute soon to be built on the California State University at Los Angeles campus.  The endowment will assist in the education and training of students and current working professionals in the fields of forensic science. Recently, the members of the cast of the CSI television show attended a Crime Lab Day at the Kern County Regional Crime Laboratory in Bakersfield, California.  That day was devoted as an open house allowing the public and the media to tour the crime lab and meet the staff.   Crime Lab Day was in essence a public awareness day designed to bring attention to the lab’s lack of funding and resources.  It highlighted the solving of a twenty-five year old murder case through DNA analysis, and the solving of the laboratory’s first cold hit DNA sexual assault case.  A cold hit was the detection of a sexual assault predator’s DNA on a piece of physical evidence and it’s link to DNA profile in an established DNA database.  As a result of the publicity of Crime Lab Day, the laboratory soon received an augment of over $500,000.00 to its existing budget.  Is this an example of a positive effect of the CSI effect?  Most would agree that this is the case.  Is the CSI effect good or bad for forensic science? For many of us involved in forensic science, the jury is still out.


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