By Meredith Mays, Legislative Representative, IACP
he Senate Committee on the Judiciary recently held a hearing entitled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States.” The purpose of the hearing was to examine reform proposals for forensic science and to ensure that, according to the committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “forensic science and evidence is a solid foundation for the credibility and integrity we must demand from our criminal justice system.”1
Earlier this year, the National Academy of Science (NAS) released a report on forensics titled, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.2 Consisting of more than recommendations, the report details a comprehensive plan to overhaul the delivery and use of forensic science in the United States. Significantly, a key recommendation of the NAS report is the removal of crime laboratories and other forensics services from law enforcement agencies—a recommendation the IACP strongly opposes.
One of the concerns listed in the NAS report and one shared by the IACP is the need for additional funding for crime labs. IACP Member Chief Harold Hurtt, of the Houston, Texas Police Department, who testified at the hearing said, “Crime labs have been understaffed, underfunded and work performed in facilities that have been retrofitted into crime labs with insufficient evidence processing layouts.”3
When the NAS report was released, the IACP Executive Committee, working in collaboration with the IACP Forensics Committee, outlined the association’s concerns with the report recommendations and highlighted the impact they could have on state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
First and foremost, the IACP strongly opposes the report’s recommendation that crime laboratories and other forensic services should be removed from law enforcement agencies.
Other concerns are listed below:
- The IACP is concerned that the report was developed without input from law enforcement practitioners and recommends their input be sought.
- The IACP strongly believes that all research and other initiatives that are designed to study/enhance the delivery of forensic sciences must include the participation of law enforcement practitioners.
- While the IACP agrees with, and supports, the need for accreditation and certification of forensic science providers, it also realizes the costs associated with accreditation and certification efforts. Therefore, the IACP is strongly opposed to proposals that would institute “mandatory” accreditation/certification requirements in the absence of secure, sustainable, and stable federal assistance funding.
- The IACP supports the development, inclusive of federal, state, county, local, and tribal representation, of an entity to establish standards and practices and serve as a funding source for forensic science services.
In recent months, the IACP has worked with stakeholder organizations to develop practical approaches to enhancing the delivery of forensic sciences in the United States and around the world. Staff will keep members updated on developments on this issue.
The IACP Legislative Committee Is Changing
For the last year, the IACP leadership has been conducting a review of IACP’s Committees and Committee Structure. The recommendations were presented to the Executive Committee at its last meeting, and they were approved. One of these recommendations addressed the IACP Legislative Committee. Briefly, the changes were designed to refocus the Legislative Committee from the rather cumbersome (80+) member committee that was originally intended to serve as a communication vehicle from IACP to it members in each state (a function which advances in communication technology have rendered somewhat obsolete) to a more compact committee that would devote it efforts to reviewing current developments and more directly advising the Executive Committee on matters of concern.
In that light, the Legislative Committee was re-designated the “Legislative Policy Committee” and its membership was reduced to nine members. These members include the Chairman, the First and Fourth Vice Presidents, the General Chairs of SACOP and S&P, two other members of the Executive Committee, and two other slots that can be filled either from the Executive Committee or the General Membership. ■
1Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking before the Hearing on “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States,” September 9, 2009, 111th Cong., 2d sess., http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200909/090909a.html (accessed October 14, 2009).
2Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community, National Research Council, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2009).
3Chief Harold Hurtt, testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States,” September 9, 2009, 111th Cong., 2d sess., http://judiciary.senate.gov/pdf/09-09-09%20Hurtt%20testimony.pdf (accessed October 14, 2009).