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A criminalist (aka crime scene technician, examiner, or investigator) is a person who searches for, collects, and preserves physical evidence in the investigation of crime and suspected criminals [see job description]. They typically work in city or regional crime labs and are expected to do more than the forensic scientists and crime lab technicians there. They are expected to be on call 24 hours a day to go out to crime scenes, frankly when and where detectives are stumped. Some jurisdictions require the presence of a criminalist at all major crime scenes. The services of a criminalist are used at the beginning of a case. By contrast, the services of a forensic scientist are primarily used at the end, or courtroom testimony phase, of a case. All crime lab employees must be ready to offer expert testimony in court, however. Criminalists usually get called to testify about matters of contamination, crosscontamination, and chain of custody, but many of them (senior criminalists) have developed an interpretive expertise, for example, in blood spatter analysis, trace evidence, impression evidence, or drug identification, as well as skills at crime reconstruction and sometimes profiling (Levinson & Almog 1989). But the term was mostly forgotten until the 1960s when a series of cooperative movements took place between police agencies and criminal justice or criminology departments to establish criminalistics (Univ. of California) and forensic science (Michigan State) college programs. Professors Paul Kirk in California and Ralph Turner in Michigan (among many others) were pioneers in those movements. As Osterburg and Ward (2000) imply, criminalistics programs (available at forty-one community colleges and only one four-year college) followed the police science model to record, identify, and interpret the minutia (minute details) of physical evidence, and forensic science (available at fourteen four-year colleges and nine master's degree programs) followed the medical science model to apply generally
Firearms-toolmarks. and policy-driven. Chemistry and Toxicology. Hairs and Fibers. Many criminalists consider themselves (professional) criminologists. Materials Analysis. the criminal justice model became an attempt to make sense of whole systems of justice. Forensic science is the broader term because criminalistics is a branch of forensic science. Special Projects (film. computer design). 47 states had crime labs. and by the mid-1970's (the birth of criminal justice). odontology. the FBI and ATF. but few criminologists consider themselves criminalists. 2 . research. and the criminology model. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences web site highlights about twenty various degree programs that relate to some aspect of criminalistics or forensic science education. a few major cities and the FBI obtained crime labs during the 1930s. In America. mainly because their crime labs are pretty much considered the tops in the field and a model for elsewhere. after Locard solved a strangling case by using fingernail scrapings. two organizations stand out above the rest. became theory. "Forensic" is simply an adjective that can be put in front of any science applied to answering legal questions. but today. Post-1975. art. serology. photography. most criminal justice programs only have one course in criminal investigation. The famous Locard Exchange Principle that "every contact leaves a trace" is named for him. With federal police agencies. and psychiatry) to the scientific examination of physical evidence. The world's first crime laboratory was established by Edmond Locard in Lyon. FBI crime lab has 4 sections: Scientific analysis (DNA. A few criminal justice programs that existed prior to the explosion of the field in 1974 offered a criminalistics or forensic science concentration. Fingerprinting (some 200 million records). Investigative Operations and Support (grew out of Questioned Documents unit and includes lie detection of various sorts).accepted principles of established disciplines (like pathology. toxicology. dominated heavily by sociology until about 1990. composites. France during 1910. Questioned Documents.
the evidence is visually inspected and properly described to document its condition. arsons (and does it well). or poisons. bombs. if sufficient amounts of the evidence exist. Battelle Corp. but when a lab is set up to receive evidence from ongoing criminal investigations. the laboratory worker (criminalist. this being called a Ballistics. ATF labs are typically very high-tech and have always been accredited. this is called casework. and Sirchie Corp. and at least 80% of them are affiliated with a police agency (where they typically hold bureau status in the organization). weapons. crime lab technician. instrumentation. a section dealing with anything so small. Trace evidence and deciphering firearms ownership and usage. Disaster response teams (kind of like FEMA). Biology. properly dissect the portion to be tested. to name a few. this being called a Trace Evidence. (for arson cases). works exclusively for the prosecution. or forensic scientist) will have to figure out what tests are appropriate. Firearms. this being called a Chemistry or Toxicology Division. Field support. Before any laboratory work is done. and is considered the world's largest lab. like hairs or fibers. drugs. it must be ensured that the workplace is clean and contamination free.The FBI lab only handles violent crime. The rest are located in the private sector and some of these are exemplary and known for a particular specialty: Cellmark Diagnostics (for DNA). and a section dealing with guns. Often. and some Gang intelligence record keeping. There is a shortage of DNA laboratories since only 120 labs are set up to do DNA testing (Steadman 2002). and sketched. and properly prepare the 3 . ATF crime lab handles Explosives. Then. weighed. Then.S. a section dealing with unknown substances. or Microscopy Division. Almost all labs in existence are forensic labs. where "forensic" means the experts there are available to give courtroom opinions. It's typical for a Crime Lab to have 4 divisions under a Director's Office: a section dealing with anything pertaining to fluids. or whatever. or Fingerprinting (Dusting and Lifting) Division (where Interns usually work). (for fingerprinting and trace evidence collection). this being called a Serology Division. that they need to be looked at under a microscope. There are about 350 crime laboratories in the U. and the lab is referred to as a casework lab. it will be photographed.
Only then does the lab worker engage in the process of interpreting what the experiments have disclosed. mishandling. each of which must be properly performed and documented. Only then does any testing begin. in which case it goes back to the crime lab. the evidence properly repackaged and relabeled. Generally. At the prosecutor's discretion. Quality control refers to measures that are taken to ensure that the product. where it will be stored until he/she decides they want to use it or want more testing performed. among other things. A basic business principle is that QA serves as a check on QC. and document its performance. it has to meet certain minimum requirements which include. A report is prepared and the contents of that report must be precisely correct. for example a DNA-typing result and its interpretation. and 4) a program for proficiency testing. It should be fairly evident that all this transportation of evidence gives rise to numerous possibilities for error in the form of destruction. Quality assurance refers to measures that are taken by a laboratory to monitor. Protocols consist of a few hundred pages of highly technical manuals and should include such things as "validation studies" which the lab performed itself to make it capable of performing tests in any particular discipline. whenever a lab applies for accreditation. are performing up to the standards of the profession. Some tests include as many as five or six separate procedures. all the while continuing to document each step. 3) a Lab Testing Protocol. the evidence has to make it back to the police evidence room. the development and publication of: 1) a Quality Control Manual. and once again transported to storage. and contamination. verify. Proficiency testing determines if the lab workers individually. 4 .testing material (which might include the delicate mixing of numerous chemical compounds). and the laboratories as institutions. meets a specified standard of quality. 2) a Quality Assurance Manual.
yields physical evidence subject to different interpretation (and is the basis for crime reconstruction and profiling). and confessions. This means knowing the Types of Evidence and the Laws of Evidence. In homicide and sexual assault cases. where police can link different offenses at different times and places with the same offender. In addition. physical evidence is the number one determinant of guilt or innocence. In the blind test. without a doubt. An equivocal crime scene.physical evidence. that identity has been individualized. individual lab workers join associations to beef up their resumes. the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC). class and individual characteristics. the expert can say. or entities in a class by itself. there is little chance of even finding a suspect. Physical evidence is also the number one provider of extraordinary clearances. or what Paul Kirk called individualization (Kirk 1936). the lab worker doesn't know that a test is taking place. the most important concept in criminalistics is identification. so that they constitute a class of one (by itself). samples to be examined are given to a laboratory or particular worker. they are said to establish an identity.In these tests. Without doubt. also called individual characteristics. There are two methods employed in administering these tests. match. Without one of the first two. When a number of details are put together (as in points of comparison). Identity is a set of characteristics (combinations of class 5 . by comparison. The open proficiency test is like an open book exam. Working with physical evidence means being aware at all times of what the prosecutor needs to win the case in court. At this point. they think the evidence sample they are working on is just another case. blind and known. but the results are already known by a test giver. if there are similarities between evidence from the crime scene and evidence from a suspect. Identification produces unequivocal (certain) interpretation. It is important to clearly understand the concepts of identity. witnesses. Physical evidence is part of the "holy trinity" for solving crimes -. The two main ones are the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
but the red hair in this example can be considered enough of an individual characteristic which combines with the class characteristic to establish identity. the examiner can say the crime scene (unknown or questioned) sample "may have come from the same source" as the suspect's (known or exemplar) sample. or match in individual characteristics. the crime scene (unknown or questioned) sample "did come from the same source" as the suspect's (known or exemplar) sample. Class characteristics alone do not allow matches with a single suspect. most of time. A standard is the opposite of exemplar. Identity can also be used to conclusively eliminate people as suspects. when a particular piece of class evidence like fiber (for which there are large quantities in the population) is put together with another piece of class evidence like red hair (which usually only exists in the subpopulation of white people). Standards consist of simultaneous tests done on items taken from the "background" or nearby the crime scene (control sample). for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. This kind of (true) match allows the examiner to say that. if there is a "match" between the fibers and hair from the crime scene with a suspect. such as test firings of a similar weapon (standard 6 . Reliability and integrity are enhanced if the examiner has conducted tests on standards using controls. Matches at the individual level are called similarities. because in theory.characteristics or combinations of class and individual characteristics) by which a thing is recognizable or known. An example of a similarity. for example. A pattern is established. An exemplar always comes from a suspect or something representing a known modus operandi or signature. Matches for evidence with individual characteristics do allow pinpointing a particular suspect. It cannot be said the investigator has "individualized" anything at this point. At this point. which is sufficient for probable cause. would be a number of comparable points of comparison between the friction ridge lines on a latent (crime scene) fingerprint with the fingerprints of a particular suspect. items similar to one the suspect used. there's no such thing as a perfect match. because the similarities outweigh any dissimilarities. Identity is the same as pattern. which is sufficient.
and then attempt to present a table which classifies evidence by their class and individual characteristics. To wrap things up. The astute student may notice that the word "match" is used a couple of different ways in criminalistics. for example. like I have used in my explanations above. or items used for calibration purposes kept in stock at the lab (reference sample). Abuse of the term "match" is even worse in forensic science. Some people prefer the term "matching" (Ramsland 2001).the points of comparison method . which allows different disciplines to set their own criteria and standards. let's conclude with an interesting topic -.sample). Nobody uses the phrase (true) match. 7 .