Poster Sessions Presented at the International Symposium on Setting Quality Standards for the Forensic Community (Forensic Science Communications, July 1999)
July 1999 - Volume 1 - Number 2
Poster Sessions Presented at the International Symposium on Setting Quality Standards for the Forensic Community
San Antonio, Texas
May 3-7, 1999
The following abstracts of the poster sessions are ordered alphabetically by authors’ last names.
Many forensic laboratories are required to develop and evaluate a test method as a result of an exhibit submission. Generally, the principles of a test method are available. A laboratory may be accredited for competence in doing the tests listed in the scope by International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Guide 25 and the new standard 17025. However, if something new is required to conduct an examination and provide results that can be used, how are the new procedures accredited?
On the basis of Eurachem CITAC Guide 2 (Quality Assurance for Research and Development and Non-Routine Analysis), a working group of the Standards Council of Canada developed an interpretation of this European document that can be used to ensure that forensic laboratories are accredited for non-routine tests or for a test method that is being developed and evaluated.
My presentation outlines what will be used during accreditation audits by Standards Council of Canada assessors.
Utah Evidence Tracking System (UETS):
A Novel Approach to Crime Laboratory Information Management Systems
T. Bazarnik, D. Cook, J. Henry, K. Patrick, and M. Sadler
Utah Department of Public Safety
Salt Lake City, Utah
The objective of the Utah Evidence Tracking System (UETS) project was to develop a better and more convenient laboratory management information tool for both law enforcement and prosecutorial use and to increase the efficiency of information flow from the crime laboratory to user agencies. The UETS project represents a second generation, in-house developed software that allows both law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies to interact online with the Bureau of Forensic Services’ Unix-based system, which is connected to the state’s mainframe computer. Using a log-on ID and a password, agencies can access UETS from the field. The state’s mainframe computer is used as a switcher to gain access to the database of information. This interaction is beneficial for two important reasons:
1. Law enforcement can conveniently enter case information from their agency headquarters into the UETS system and then hand deliver or mail the evidence. Once the evidence is officially received, the case progress can be monitored online by law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.
2. When the case is completed, an official report can be generated online in a format that can be downloaded by user agencies.
This system has been in use for approximately one year. The results have been encouraging. Larger agencies, with many cases, spend less time at the laboratory with evidence check-in, thus decreasing the staffing demands on the evidence technicians. Agencies that are hundreds of miles from the laboratory now have a more convenient and consistent method of evidence submission. Requests for faxed laboratory reports have virtually disappeared in some jurisdictions, further decreasing unproductive interruptions and demands on all laboratory personnel.
In summary, the development of the UETS system has conveniently shifted part of the burden of evidence intake, case monitoring, and case reporting back to the user agencies and has allowed for a more consistent method of evidence submission. The system has been successful with prosecutorial agencies who are now able to obtain case updates and case reports for both preliminary hearings and trials without contacting the laboratory. With UETS, the Bureau of Forensic Services has been able to increase the efficiency of laboratory personnel. Currently, the UETS’s system has been shared with another state laboratory system, and it is also being evaluated by the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) for potential nationwide applicability.
The Illinois State Police, Division of Forensic Services, Forensic Sciences Command, is committed to providing the highest quality scientific analysis to all law enforcement agencies and to the judicial system. The cornerstone of quality assurance is a well-defined and established set of standards and controls for the analyst/examiner to use as a basis for producing quality work. As important as these standards and controls are, they do not reduce the need for a self-checking process to monitor techniques and procedures that are used in arriving at conclusions. In order to accomplish this task, the Forensic Sciences Command implemented the following procedures: case reanalysis, case file reviews, internal proficiency testing, external proficiency testing, on-site visits, and various audits.
The program is under the direction of a program administrator and an assistant program administrator who are assisted by 22 quality review (QR) coordinators: one each from the Documents, Microscopy, Polygraph, Trace Chemistry, and Toxicology sections; two each from the Firearms/Toolmarks and Forensic Biology sections: three each from the Latent Prints/AFIS section; and five each from the Drug Chemistry and DNA sections. The QR coordinators are responsible for carrying out the following quality assurance procedures cited in the Command Quality Manual: case reanalysis, case file reviews, internal proficiency testing, and on-site visits. Depending on the discipline, each analyst/examiner participates in one or more annual proficiency tests and on-site visits. In the Polygraph section, a detailed case file review is substituted for a proficiency test. Additionally, external agencies perform proficiency testing, which is monitored by the Quality Assurance (QA) Program Administrator.
To further assist with the quality process, an individual at each laboratory is designated as a Quality Manager. This person’s responsibility is to track the QA process at their laboratory and file a year-end evaluation of laboratory activities and recommendations to improve the quality system. In addition, the Quality Manager is the contact person for the QR coordinators in the performance of their duties.
The results of case reanalysis and proficiency testing as reported by the QR coordinators for 1998 showed a total of four issues that could affect cases. This is a rate of 0.42 percent (four issues in 954 total reviews). Follow-up corrective action was taken in each instance to remedy the concern.
In 1997 the Florida Department of Insurance, the parent agency for the Florida Fire Marshal, advanced its legislatively mandated schedule for Performance Based Program Budgeting (PB2). The Division of State Fire Marshal was designated to be the first in the department to change from line-item budgeting to PB2.
PB2 is budgeting based on quality principles. PB2 not only identifies inputs and outputs but also ties those into a quality component to measure outcomes. It is often tempting to stop with outputs because identifying the quality component is difficult.
I present a poster that shows the Fire and Arson Laboratory’s progress through this process. The initial stages involve an examination of who our customers are and what our key responsibilities are. The poster shows how this step is an essential link in a chain connecting an agency’s strategic plan and budget request to the public’s perception of the agency.
Only by linking all of these components can an entity identify the quality measures that lead to meaningful outcomes. Meaningful outcomes allow the public and elected officials to see the value of supporting the budget needs of an entity. This poster presents the various components and shows how they are linked. Critical questions concerning each link are presented. Our laboratory’s model provides an example of the answers to those questions. Other laboratories may wish to adapt this model to their situation.
In September 1998 a positive footwear identification based on a Schallamach pattern was presented in court. The scientific basis for the identification was accepted. This case set a precedent that Schallamach patterns are sufficient to effect a positive identification in footwear identification.
A Schallamach pattern is a series of abrasions on a shoe outsole that occur perpendicular to the direction of force. The abrasion pattern appears as a series of fine wavelike distortions on the shoe outsole. The Schallamach pattern occurs in the worn areas of the shoe outsole. Care must be taken not to confuse stippling or acid etching for a Schallamach pattern.
The Schallamach pattern was first studied by A. Schallamach, a German rubber engineer. His work was published in Wear Magazine (Vol. 1, No. 5, published in the Netherlands in April 1958). Further studies were conducted in the United Kingdom, and the results were published in the Information Bulletin for Shoeprint/Toolmark Examiners in 1998 (Feathering, Transient Wear Features and Wear Pattern Analysis: A Study of the Progressive Wear of Training Shoe Outsoles by Tart et al.).
The Schallamach pattern under magnification has the appearance of friction ridge skin. Both fingerprint and shoe and tire examination techniques were used for the identification. The abrasion ridges from the impressions were compared to the suspect shoe outsoles directly. The abrasion patterns are highly transient in nature. If suspect shoes are not collected within a short period of time, the pattern will change enough that an identification will not be possible. The terminology of ending abrasion ridge and bifurcation abrasion ridge are applied for the comparison. On the basis of the examiner’s experience, the abrasion ridge characteristics had to be a sufficient number to effect a meaningful comparison. There can be no unexplainable dissimilarities in the abrasion pattern characteristics from the known, including differing ridge counts, missing characteristics, and distortion. All of the previously mentioned factors were met for the identification for the case presented in court. The case work was given to a second examiner to verify the identification. He was also a qualified fingerprint and shoe impression examiner.
In court the exemplars were presented to the jury, as a fingerprint identification would be, with the background studies on the topic cited. The identification positively placed the subject in the burglarized building, and it also set the precedent for a shoe impression to be positively identified by a Schallamach pattern.
In states with large populations and large geographical areas, it is common for multi-laboratory systems to be developed to minimize travel time for courtroom testimony, reduce travel time for submitting agency personnel, and allow for hand delivery of evidence to the laboratory, with face-to-face discussion between the analyst and the investigator.
However, multi-laboratory systems provide an opportunity for inconsistent training, deviations from approved methodology, a loss of esprit de corps, and a decline in quality control between the different laboratories. These problems compound with an increase in the number of laboratories, staff size, and breadth of services offered in each laboratory.
As a result of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act passed in 1968, the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division expanded, as was the case in many laboratories, from a single laboratory with a modestly sized staff to seven laboratories with a total staff of nearly 200 by 1975. One of the laboratories was located more than 400 miles from headquarters, making routine oversight problematic.
To improve quality control and quality assurance within the laboratory system, in 1993 the Forensic Science Division established the position of Forensic Program Coordinator within each discipline in the laboratory. These positions maintain statewide, day-to-day oversight of proficiency testing, training, methodology, research, instrumentation, and safety within each discipline. After nearly five years of operation, these positions have proven to be indispensable in maintaining quality assurance in a large multi-laboratory system.
From the first meetings of the Technical Working Group (TWG) on DNA Analysis Methods to the subsequent plethora of existing and proposed TWG-like groups, quality in forensic analysis has been a key concern to any farsighted analyst or administrator. Although the federally sponsored TWG groups have traditionally focused on national big-picture guidelines, the individual laboratory and analyst have frequently been on the outside looking in with respect to their insights and difficulties that may affect their abilities to operate and produce forensic results in a quality manner. To facilitate the personal communication of ideas and to aid in the troubleshooting of local analytical problems, the Southwestern Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) was formed more than five years ago. Originally known informally as the Texas TWGDAM or TWGLET, this regional forensic DNA organization now provides a number of services to its members.
SWGDAM currently has more than 125 members representing nearly 40 laboratories from ten states, mostly located in the southwest. SWGDAM has traditionally acted as a forum for DNA analysts to discuss ideas and to troubleshoot analytical problems or concerns with a group of forensic DNA analysts working on similar cases with similar techniques. Over a period of time the organization has evolved into a provider of numerous programs that have aided members in ensuring that their laboratories can maintain a high level of quality with an extremely low level of expense. Currently, SWGDAM holds meetings on a biannual basis, providing group troubleshooting and analyst networking along with proficiency and audit programs, formal training, and nationally known guest speakers. The training program has included such areas as chemiluminescence, genetic bit analysis, Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and capillary electrophoresis.
Regional TWG groups provide valuable programs and opportunities for the individual analyst and laboratories to ensure that they provide analyses of the highest possible quality.
Ever-expanding casework, management assignments, and requirements of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) result in less time and attention for professional development, database maintenance, and knowledge sharing among crime laboratory professionals.
An effective means to counter this sacrifice to professional development is the creation of a Multi-Agency Forensic Cooperation (MAFC) group. The Chesapeake Area Shoeprint and Tire Track (CAST) group is an example. This consortium of footwear and tire track experts succeeds because the essential aspects for professional development are spontaneously generated through group interaction during casework. The old method was to rely upon a lead agency to provide knowledgeable experts, monetary funding, vision, goals, and the time necessary to foster professional development.
Unlike a lead agency, a MAFC group serves as facilitators to track and promote professional development, assemble contact and resource information, and nurture the group culture cohesiveness. Member roles are to generate and sustain momentum; set group agendas and goals; and share in quality control, database maintenance, and forensic discipline knowledge.
This poster highlights how CAST succeeds in professional development, specifically in the areas of shared quality control, forensic knowledge, talents, databases and computer programs, and professional achievements.
This poster examines quality improvement discoveries from proficiency testing in a criminalistics laboratory system and some negative aspects inherent to the test process. Testing frequently reveals new ways to enhance work practices. A database for recording the outcomes of hundreds of tests (Testrac) is available. Examples of judgmental errors in reviewing test responses are negative factors from which to learn. Variability of commercially prepared samples can be seen when multiple replicates are processed by many sites in the laboratory system. Methods for blind and reexamination testing and the resolution of diverse opinions among peers are critical to program acceptance. Corrective measures for tests where unexpected results are reported and appropriate remediation contribute to learning experiences. As a quality assurance program manager, I have compared the fallacy of post-test intercomparison and evaluation methods in this poster.
Recently, the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Criminalistics Laboratory began the Offender Tracking Program to track all fingerprint identifications of offenders and the disposition of their respective cases. This is done as a quality measure of our Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and other fingerprint identifications from other sources such as service requests from detectives, attorneys, and investigators. The quality system begins with the APD Field Investigators Unit, which is responsible for the collection of all latent fingerprints. The latent fingerprint evidence is submitted to the Criminalistics Laboratory where it is screened and entered into the AFIS system. Twenty-five to 30 percent of all the workable prints entered match with persons in our database. The crime laboratory provides offender tracking statistics to investigators, and the investigators then provide feedback to the crime laboratory on the disposition of each case (e.g., arrest or indictment). This information is then forwarded to the chief of police who looks to each captain for results in the area commands.
The city of Albuquerque is divided into five area commands with a substation in each area. Each substation is an autonomous and independent entity relying on only a few centralized functions such as criminalistics, records, and radio communications. Some of the problems have been a lack of communication and a lack of coordination among the investigators between the area substations. As a quality control measure, the Offender Tracking Program helps to bridge this gap by providing accurate and timely information to the investigators on what type of crime, by whom, and where it was committed. Communication is increased, and duplication of effort is decreased.
Timely informative crime analysis is imperative to reduce crime. Crime analysis includes the identification of crime patterns and the quick distribution of the resulting crime pattern information. Once a month, the Offender Tracking Program report is distributed to the captain and to at least two sergeants for each substation. The report includes a detailed listing of all identifications of offenders made by fingerprints for the previous month. Furthermore, a listing is provided of all repeat offenders with the pertinent information (date of occurrence, type of offense, location of offense, and offender’s name, date of birth, and APD identification number) listed for that offender. In addition, the report is given to other investigative units such as the Gang Unit, the Repeat Offenders Program, Auto Theft, and Pawn Shop Detail and to personnel in the District Attorney’s office.
Upon completion of an investigation, each substation is responsible for completing a brief Offender Tracking Program form and returning it to the crime laboratory. The form has two parts: relationship of offender to victim and final case disposition. Upon receiving the completed forms, the investigative progress can be tracked for each substation.
The analysis provided by the Offender Tracking Program allows each area command to ensure that there is a coordinated investigative effort among the different parts of the city. It also alerts investigators to trends, habits, and preferences of repeat offenders. The District Attorney’s Office can then combine multiple cases for one offender and seek stronger sentencing. It also allows the Chief of Police to review each substation’s investigative progress.
Independent reviews or audits are an essential part of a laboratory quality system. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors’ Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) now requires annual audits of laboratory operations as well as an independent review of the laboratory quality system. The annual quality review process at the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Forensic Science Laboratory was designed to provide effective review in a large multidisciplinary forensic laboratory.
The main elements of this review process are
- a full-time quality assurance officer,
- a core group of examiners trained in the audit process,
- individual audits for each analytical section scheduled for a specific month each year,
- a well-defined set of standards against which each section is measured, and
- clearly written communication of findings and recommendations to management and technical staff.
A key element in the success of this program is the appointment of a quality analyst in each analytical section. The analysts prepare their sections for annual review, serve as auditors in the review of other analytical sections, and are important participants in the review of any technical problems that may arise in their sections.
In a multidisciplinary forensic laboratory, it is difficult for a quality manager to have sufficient technical knowledge to adequately judge all issues that arise. With this structure, the quality manager has the support of a core group of analysts with expertise in both their technical area and the review process.