Peeking Inside a Crime Lab

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You have heard of crime labs where scientific testing takes place on the TV show CSI. How is a forensics lab different from a clinical lab? How did a forensics laboratory come about? Where did it come from? What kinds of testing go on in a forensics lab?Both forensics and clinical laboratories use the same scientific equipment and follow the same research protocols. However, in a clinical lab, testing with the purpose of diagnosing and treating the sick is carried out from a live patient. A forensics lab performs testing with the aim of establishing links between a suspect and a crime.The Very First Crime LabIn 1923, August Volmer (1876-1955) of the Los Angeles Police Department established the nation’s first forensic laboratory. About six years later, the first privately owned forensic lab was established in Chicago following the investigation of Chicago’s notorious St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Calvin Goddard (1891-1955), America’s leading firearms identification expert at the time, was able to deduce a connection of the killings to Al Capone. Because of his expertise in firearms identification, two businessmen saw a potential in Calvin Goddard and funded further development of his crime lab at Northwestern University where he became a professor of police science. This new lab enveloped the other disciplines of blood analysis, fingerprinting, and trace evidence analysis under the same roof.Then in 1932, Goddard helped establish a national forensics laboratory for the FBI. It is in this lab that nearly all forensic services known to law enforcement are performed. Today many states have used the FBI forensics lab as a model for their own state or local labs.Common Procedures Done in a Crime LabTechnical scientific analyses offered by modern-day crime labs and medical examiners’ offices are diverse and complex. The number of services supplied by a particular lab is inherently dependant upon its size and available funding. State and regional labs may provide a wide range of services, and local labs may provide only fundamental testing procedures. In general, small crime labs usually outsource more complex testing to larger regional labs. Moreover, the FBI’s National Crime Lab offers services to all law enforcement agencies all over the country. An FBI crime lab can perform just about every type of scientific test. It also has access to databases covering everything such as tire-track impressions, fingerprints, shoe prints, and postage stamps.Larger laboratories may offer separate departments for each discipline, while smaller labs tend to encompass various services. Sometimes, there is an individual technician who is hired to do all the work. This is what the grunge character, Abby Sciuto, the forensics expert on the TV show NCIS, does. If this is the case, it would be smart for her to outsource the work to larger reference labs.What are the common procedures done in a crime lab?• Fingerprint analysis• Tool mark and impression analysis• Blood analysis• Ballistic reports• Trace evidence reports• Toxicological testing• DNA analysisNo doubt, a crime lab technician has his work cut out.With advancing technology, there will be newer services offered for crime labs all over the country. This will make it harder for perpetrators to get away with murder, bank robbery, or sexual assault.