Filing forensics

Analysts initiate less mainstream databases for law enforcement use


     "Some of the products that we see now are things that people never thought of 15 years ago," Hoffmann says. "They're kind of unusual and hard to recognize as a product. It's nice to be able to go through a database that has a lot of different substances in it and quickly screen."

     Hoffmann explains one of the 6-year-old database's new features is a thumbnail visual — "a chemical fingerprint," she says — of the product components, which makes it easy for an examiner to quickly sift through samples.

     The database is free to users through the Internet at ilrc.ucf.edu. For database information, contact the National Center for Forensic Science at natlctr@mail.ucf.edu. For analytical chemistry questions, contact Judi Hoffmann at jhoffmann@mt.gov.

Connecting the dots

     Mankevich imagines the strength of a forensic atmosphere with a nationally linked database for various disciplines would help law enforcement connect the dots more quickly and easily than each agency working on its own. Mankevich notes investigators and analysts have evidence that could be linked up, but without a common database to connect the two, identifiable evidence will remain unidentified.

     "Crime labs have been so correct in all their investments in all of these databases, from all the forensic disciplines," Mankevich explains. "A lot of these have been built from scratch. Here, you're not building anything from scratch. All the screens are there for linking one crime to another; it's just sitting there under-utilized."

     As for making Mankevich's notion of expanded, nationally linked forensic databases — including shoe prints — that would crack down on repeat offenders a reality, he says he's waiting.

     "You can never have too many biometric-type databases working for you," Mankevich argues. "But the fact that the shoe print is under-utilized, that's one loophole you could quickly close because you have SICAR. It's just a matter of having some agency, hopefully the federal government, step forward and say, 'OK, we're going to make this a reality.' We're hoping for that day to come."

     Should more, rather than less, of Mankevich's contemporaries see as much potential in that vision as there was in Verne's "fiction," maybe he won't have to wait as long as Verne to be vindicated.

Additional database resources Tagging tablets

     Stockton, California-based Ident-A-Drug is maintained by the privately owned company, Therapeutic Research. The database is one of several services Therapeutic Research provides for consumers and professionals.

     Stephanie Feilzer, database coordinator for Ident-A-Drug, explains it is strictly a pill-identification tool. It contains information on tablet and capsule imprints, physical descriptions (color, shape, scores or other markings), ingredients, strength, brand names and manufacturer, plus the national drug code (NDC), class and DEA schedule designation, if applicable. The database also hosts Canadian products. The data is available in an annually published book form and a travel version for PDAs in addition to the online database.

     To provide reliable product information, Feilzer explains that Ident-A-Drug compiles its information directly from manufacturers' drug catalogues or through government sources. The database is updated as new information is available, which Feilzer says is typically three times a week. Feilzer explains that public safety agents find Ident-A-Drug "really handy," and use in a variety of ways, like identifying unknown drugs found on arrestees.

     The database also lists information for discontinued drugs and attempts to locate information for pills that may not be listed.

     "We encourage our subscribers — if they ever cannot find something — to contact us and we will do everything we can to find the identification," Feilzer says. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, we will find it."

     Standard yearly subscriptions cost approximately $40 dollars, and group pricing is also available. Single month-long subscriptions are available for a lesser fee.

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