Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $599,507)
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS’s) Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories (CPFFCL) provides insight on operational, quality assurance, and policy and procedures across the approximately 400 publicly funded U.S. crime laboratories. These laboratories work within the criminal justice framework that includes law enforcement (investigative, penal, and public order), courts (attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendant, judge, or jury), corrections, and public safety. They are funded by federal, state, and local governments, which legislate their operational jurisdiction of criminal cases and their legal authority to process and analyze physical evidence and report findings to their jurisdictional court systems. RTI International and its partner, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), provide expert knowledge of the forensic laboratory community and its challenges and trends.
RTI will design the CPFFCL to efficiently collect high-quality data for calendar year 2024 while maintaining a high response rate, minimizing burden, showing trends for variables common across prior surveys, capturing emerging issues, and mitigating the challenges involved in working with these laboratories. Building on the previous instrument, the 2024 CPFFCL will, at a minimum, include measures related to laboratory organization, relationships with criminal justice stakeholders, types of forensic analyses performed, annual operating budgets, staffing, outsourcing, numbers of forensic requests received and completed during the year, backlogs, types of proficiency tests performed, types of accreditation and staff certifications, extent of standardization in data collection and coding, use of or contributions to other databases, and policies regarding case acceptance or referral. An expert panel will identify potential changes related to question wording and response options and determine new measures for inclusion on the 2024 instrument regarding emerging practices and issues that are critical for the forensic laboratory community. Cognitive interviews will evaluate instrument performance and provide for additional expert feedback.
The 2024 CPFFCL will be administered through a flexible multi-mode survey approach involving web and paper response options and email, mail, and telephone prompting to reduce nonresponse. A final dataset, codebook and associated documentation, and technical report documenting the overall data collection will provide BJS with the information needed to use and disseminate the 2024 CPFFCL findings. The 2024 CPFFCL, as in years past, will continue to provide a comprehensive look at the forensic services provided by crime laboratories across the nation and complement BJS’s data collections involving medical examiner/coroner offices and law enforcement core statistics.