Forensic Identification. The focus of its activities is pattern evidence—for example, fingerprint, footwear, tire track, questioned documents, forensic photography, and forensic art.

ASCLD/LAB and FQS accredit crime laboratories and are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 7. Chapter 9 describes the activities of NAME.


The fragmented nature of the forensic science community makes it difficult to gather data on the entire universe of forensic service entities and activities, although efforts have been made to collect data on publicly funded crime laboratories and nonlaboratory-based providers. For example, the committee could find no data available on for-profit forensic service providers, other than on DNA laboratories. Thus, attempts to construct effective policies are hampered by the lack of coherent and consistent information on the forensic science infrastructure in the United States. However, the large amount of information provided to the committee by people engaged in the forensic science enterprise and by experts who have studied how well that enterprise functions all points to a system that lacks coordination and that is underresourced in many ways.

By using the term “underresourced,” the committee means to imply all of its dimensions. Existing data suggest that forensic laboratories are underresourced and understaffed, which contributes to a backlog in cases and likely makes it difficult for laboratories to do as much as they could to inform investigations, provide strong evidence for prosecutions, and avoid errors that could lead to imperfect justice. But underresourced also means that the tools of forensic science are not as strong as they could be. The knowledge base that underpins analysis and the interpretation of evidence—which enable the forensic science disciplines to excel at informing investigations, providing strong evidence for prosecutions, and avoiding errors that could lead to imperfect judgment—is incomplete in important ways. NIJ is the only federal agency that provides direct support to crime laboratories to alleviate the backlog, and those funds are minimal. The enterprise also is underresourced in the sense that it has only thin ties to an academic research base that could undergird the forensic science disciplines and fill knowledge gaps. This underresourcing limits the ability of the many hard-working and conscientious people in the forensic science community to do their best work.

Among the various facets of underresourcing, the committee is most concerned about the knowledge base, which is further examined in Chapter 5. Adding more dollars and people to the enterprise might reduce case backlogs, but it will not address fundamental limitations in the capability of the forensic science disciplines to discern valid information from crime scene

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