National Institute of Justice
National Institute of Justice (Forensic Science)
A dramatic increase in crime during the 1960’s and the inability of state and local governments to deal with it goaded the U.S. Congress into passing the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The law toughened criminal penalties and weakened restrictions on police investigation and interrogation. It also jump-started federal involvement in local crime control as Congress created a new agency within the Department of Justice. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) became the research arm of the department; its mission was to analyze methods of controlling crime and of improving investigation and prosecution. Formed in 1969, the NIJ was unusual in that it was headed by a political appointee rather than by a member of the permanent government bureaucracy.
The NIJ is divided into the Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Research and Evaluation. The Office of Science and Technology provides training and research on the most advanced scientific techniques for law enforcement. Under the Office of Research and Evaluation, research divisions develop and direct evaluations in the areas of crime control and prevention, violence and victimization, and justice systems. This office also oversees an international research center.
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The NIJ and Forensic Science (Forensic Science)
In response to the increasing scientific complexity of police investigations, the NIJ provides training to local and state law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors in the collection, interpretation, and presentation of scientific evidence such as DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) analysis, biometric readings, and fingerprint analysis. The NIJ’s Office of Science and Technology collaborated with other federal agencies to create a set of nationally recognized standards for DNA identification, and the agency trains law-enforcement personnel to use those standards when collecting and analyzing evidence.
The NIJ is part of the U.S. government’s continuing efforts to update and improve the use of DNA analysis in criminal investigations. The agency joined with others as part of President George W. Bush’s DNA Initiative, launched in 2003, to ensure that the newest and best technology is available to local law-enforcement agencies. The DNA project has also continued the work of a previous commission in studying how DNA testing might be used to free persons who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.
In addition, the NIJ funds competitions within the private sector aimed at producing the best law-enforcement tools, including technologies in areas such as biometric identification systems, including voice matching, iris identification, and facial recognition. Among NIJ-funded studies on the test issues for...
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Making Law Enforcement More Scientific (Forensic Science)
The NIJ collaborates with other federal agencies and with state and local police departments to improve the technological and scientific capabilities of law enforcement. One of its first efforts was a movement to computerize all police records across the United States during the 1970’s and 1980’s so that record keeping would be more efficient and local, state, and federal police agencies would be able to share information on crimes and suspects. The NIJ provided both technological support and training for local police in the use of the new computerized system.
Also in the agency’s early years, NIJ researchers emphasized victim studies, trying to understand how victims of crime are psychologically affected. The findings of these studies eventually led to legislation on victims’ rights and the introduction of such procedures as the solicitation of victim impact statements in death penalty cases.
The NIJ collaborates with other federal agencies in efforts to find the best equipment for use by law-enforcement personnel, from body armor to traffic radar devices. The agency has conducted mock prison riots as training exercises for correctional officers, providing them with realistic experiences in using the latest technologies for handling rioting prisoners.
Since its founding, the NIJ has studied many other innovations in law-enforcement procedures and technologies, examining everything...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Cohn, Jeffery. “Keeping an Eye on School Security” NIJ Journal 254 (July, 2006). Reports on an NIJ study that examined the use of iris identification technology as a security measure in a New Jersey elementary school.
Connors, Edward, Thomas Lundregan, Neal Miller, and Tom McEwan. Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, 1996. NIJ research report discusses a study initiated to identify and review cases in which convicted persons were released from prison as a result of posttrial DNA testing of evidence.
Miles, Christopher, and Jeffery Cohn. “Tracking Prisoners in Jail with Biometrics.” NIJ Journal 253 (January, 2006). Describes an NIJ-sponsored study that used fingerprint and iris analysis to track prisoners in a U.S. Navy brig and discusses how such technology could be used for other purposes, including security at public buildings.
National Institute of Justice. The Future of Forensic DNA Testing: Predictions of the Research and Development Working Group. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2005. Discusses advances in DNA collecting and testing as well as likely future uses of DNA analysis in law enforcement.
_______. Investigative Uses of Technology: Devices, Tools, and Techniques. Washington, D.C.: Author, 2007....
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National Institute of Justice (World of Forensic Science)
Various branches of the federal government in the United States are concerned with the forensic investigations of accidents, deaths, and crimes, and in determining both the cause of a particular incident and in taking steps to lessen the likelihood of a recurrence.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) serves the United States Department of Justice in the areas of research, development, and evaluation. Established under the authority of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, its purpose is to provide independent, evidence-based tools to assist state and local law enforcement. Its programs address a variety of law-enforcement issues, including use of DNA evidence, drug abuse, and domestic violence.
Appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, the director of the NIJ is responsible for establishing objectives in alignment with Justice Department priorities, as well as the current needs of the field. It works to take account of views from professionals in all areas of criminal justice and related fields in its search for knowledge and tools to guide the policy and practice of law enforcement nationwide. On January 12, 2003, it reorganized, streamlining its structure from three offices to two, the Office of Development and Communications and the Office of Research and Evaluation.
NIJ has set research priorities in a number of fields, including law enforcement/policing; justice systems (sentencing, courts, prosecution, defense); corrections; investigative and forensic sciences (including DNA); counterterrorism/critical incidents; crime prevention/causes of crime; violence and victimization (including violent crimes); drugs, alcohol, and crime; interoperability, spatial information, and automated systems; and program evaluation. Among its programs are the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM); Community Mapping, Planning, and Analysis for Safety Strategies (COMPASS); National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence; and the Violence Against Women and Family Violence Research and Evaluation Program.
SEE ALSO FBI (United States Federal Bureau of Investigation); Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), United States Federal.