The National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law

A one-stop shop for science, technology and law information.


The NCSTL database provides an important tool to help the everyday practitioner learn more about areas of which they're either uncertain or they don't have the capacity or technology to develop themselves, says Berger, past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and present co-chair of the IACP's forensics committee.

"A lot of terms are used in law enforcement," he continues. "You'll hear of new technologies or an agency involved in an investigation and want to learn more. What this Web site does is direct you or link you to various sources that could help you look in a different direction."

An advanced search category that Henderson says likely will be added is Grants.

Based on data collected by the clearinghouse, she observes the most dire need is to get law enforcement more funding particularly for technology and in support of forensic science.

"Technology is not slowing down and neither is science," she says. "In order to be effective in law enforcement, you have to be on the cutting edge in those areas."

Looking for education?

Staying on top of technology and forensic science developments also means keeping up to date with training.

Partnering with law schools, professional associations, and federal and state agencies, NCSTL holds a free lecture series in the first half of the year. The first lecture, "The Complete History of Murder and Science in One Hour," was held in 2004 and presented by Michael Baden, M.D. A forensic pathologist and former New York City chief medical examiner, Baden is the co-director of the New York State Police Medico-Legal Investigation Unit and host of HBO's "Autopsy." The most recent lecture, presented this spring by James Young, M.D., special advisor to Canada's Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness minister, talked about "Terrorists, Hurricanes and Viruses: What's Next?" Young also is president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. This year's presentations were Web cast live and podcast. Free DVDs have been made or are being made of all lectures in the series, which is open to the public.

Free training specifically for law enforcement is being made available through distance learning. The outline for "Law 101" has been developed and will focus on courtroom testimony.

In addition, NCSTL staff members travel to talk about the clearinghouse and train officers how to use the database. For example, in 2005, at the invitation of the sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, Henderson trained Louisiana law enforcement agencies as well as representatives from a federal agency in courtroom testimony and the use of the NCSTL database. In turn, NCSTL partners with law enforcement to offer a scientific evidence course for law students, in which officers teach students how to process crime scenes, among other things.

Many topics of interest to law enforcement will be presented at the next National Conference on Science, Technology and the Law, November 2 to 5 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Topics presented will include: identity theft; science, law and law enforcement of methamphetamine; less-lethal technology, such as electronic stun devices; forensic evidence case law developments; a legal update on the consideration of fingerprint evidence and fingerprint identification; forensic psychology; and biogeographical ancestry prediction, which determines where someone comes from geographically based on DNA. Pre-conference workshops will focus on tracking sexual predators, DUI standards (toxicology and behavioral models) and how to present forensic evidence in court. The conference registration fee is discounted for law enforcement officers. More information is available at http://ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/events/ncstl/welcome.html.

Partners in info sharing

The work of the clearinghouse shows evidence of many partnerships.

Partnering with the National Forensic Science Technology Center, the clearinghouse developed the Law Enforcement Evidence Policy Review and Integration Project.

The pilot project with Florida law enforcement involves reviewing evidence policies and developing a model policy.

"We want to look at the evidence handling policies and procedures that are out there and provide recommendations to improve their effectiveness," says Henderson, a professor of law at Stetson who has presented more than 200 lectures and workshops on topics of evidence, courtroom testimony and professional responsibility.

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