Training and licensing of forensic professionals
Training and licensing of forensic professionals (Forensic Science)
In the late nineteenth century, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his master detective character Sherlock Holmes, who used his multifarious knowledge and his powers of ratiocination to clarify mysteries that had flummoxed Scotland Yard’s energetic but imperceptive Inspector Lestrade, the idea of applying science to the solution of crime was largely speculative. Since that time, forensic science has developed sophisticated techniques and given birth to a variety of professional organizations, but still only limited agreement exists on exactly what forensic professionals should know, or even what constitutes competence in the field. Debate continues concerning how should modern criminalists—the heirs of both Holmes and Lestrade—should be trained and certified.
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Varying Standards (Forensic Science)
In the early twenty-first century, the profession of private investigator is licensed throughout the United States, but forensics as a field is wide open. Some specialists, such as medical examiners, are subject to certification, and many specialists are regulated by their own professional organizations, but some observers have argued that greater unification and professionalization of those who have business with forensic issues is in order.
The problem is that “forensic science” is not a natural science; rather, forensic science includes any science that is useful, more or less often, in settling facts of interest in the courtroom. Over time, new sciences emerge and old “sciences” sometimes fade. In the era of Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), knowing how to measure various human physical features, such as ears, was important, but fingerprinting largely displaced that older system of identification. More recently, fingerprinting has seen its own preeminence challenged by DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) “fingerprinting” as well as by worries about accuracy and puzzles created by computerization.
In addition to disagreements about the criteria for training and the necessity and scope of licensing, disagreements exist even about standards for evidence. With regard to fingerprints, for example, no standard has been established regarding the minimum number of points of commonality that must be present for...
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Georgia Private Investigator Bill (Forensic Science)
The complex issues in the area of licensing are illustrated by the controversy in 2006 over a bill passed by the Georgia state legislature (2006 H.B. 1259) making it (with limited exceptions) a felony to engage in the private detective business without a license. This included “obtaining or furnishing…information” about crimes or the “securing of evidence…to be used before any court.” The bill was supported by the Georgia Association of Professional Private Investigators as a way to improve the image of private investigators and “protect the public” from untrained, fly-by-night amateurs. “We have all seen them,” the president of that organization wrote. “They spring up.…They screw up the investigation and their actions result in their clients losing their cases.…Meanwhile the ’investigator’ has decided that this is not as much fun as they had thought and…moved on.”
Computer consultants argued that the bill would unreasonably require them to be licensed as private investigators and that in general the bill’s provisions were inconsistent with the (sometimes) legally recognized right of scientific experts to examine evidence and testify to their findings. Moreover, as computer commentator Mark Rasch sensibly and cynically observed, “Internet based crimes occur across jurisdictions, but licensing boards’ authority does not. So a company performing computer forensics in...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Barnett, Peter D. Ethics in Forensic Science: Professional Standards for the Practice of Criminalistics. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2001. Presents a concise treatment of the ethical issues affecting the training and licensing of forensic professionals.
Hallcox, Jarrett, and Amy Welch. Bodies We’ve Buried: Inside the National Forensic Academy, the World’s Top CSI Training School. New York: Berkley Books, 2006. Describes the National Forensic Academy’s ten-week training course for law-enforcement agents. Topics of the training include the identification, collection, and preservation of evidence.
Inman, Keith, and Norah Rudin. Principles and Practice of Criminalistics: The Profession of Forensic Science. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2001. Provides an introduction to “good practices” (including ethics) in the forensic science profession.
Rasch, Mark. “Forensic Felonies.” Security Focus, April 24, 2006. Commentary helped to sound the alarm (from computer consultants’ point of view) about the proposed Georgia felony penalty for unlicensed investigation.
Robberson, John. “President’s Pen.” The Connection: Official Newsletter of the Georgia Association of Professional Private Investigators, April, 2006, 3. Presents professional private investigators’ explanation of their support for the Georgia bill changing unlicensed investigation from a...
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