FEPAC Proposes Forensic Investigation Standards – Call for Comments


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The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is asking for your comments on and reaction to the proposed standards shown below for academic programs in forensic investigation and related areas.

Background: FEPAC has recently been discussing the possibility of expanding the scope of its accreditation activities to areas other than classic forensic science/criminalistics. A survey was conducted and a statement concerning this potential initiative appears on the FEPAC website. Some years ago, FEPAC expanded its activities to include digital forensic programs. Those standards and guidelines have recently been extensively revised and are now available for public comment. An additional area in which there appears to be interest is forensic investigation and related specialties (such as death investigation).

FEPAC is thus soliciting comments on its draft-proposed standards for forensic investigation and related programs. For now, these have not been formalized into a set of numbered standards. Rather, they are presented as proposals for those standard topics on which there has been the most discussion, namely eligibility, faculty, and curriculum. FEPAC assembled a subcommittee of academics and practitioners to draft, discuss, and modify these potential standards and attempt to reach some consensus. What is presented below is the subcommittee’s consensus. After the standards, some of the points of discussion that occupied the subcommittee are presented and your thoughts on those points are requested as well. A major consideration for FEPAC is whether a sufficient number of programs apply for accreditation if they were to proceed.

Outline of Proposed Standards for Programs in Forensic Investigation

Under GENERAL STANDARDS – STANDARDS FOR ALL PROGRAMS

Eligibility for accreditation will include:

  • Regional accreditation
  • The program leads to a BS degree in forensic investigation or a related area
  • The program shall have graduated two classes prior to applying for accreditation

There has been discussion concerning whether to proscribe the name(s) of programs that might apply. So far, it has been agreed that they should not be named “Forensic Science” or “Criminalistics,” because those fall under the traditional accreditation activities.

Standards concerning mission and goals, planning and evaluation, institutional support, etc., will be developed at a later time and are likely to mimic the same standards already in place for programs that FEPAC currently accredits.

Faculty

Current faculty criteria include:

  • At least 50% of the full-time forensic faculty shall have an appropriate MS or doctoral degree
  • Full-time faculty members shall oversee all coursework and ensure its applicability to the 
program’s mission, goals, and objectives
  • At least 50% of the forensic investigation-specific credit hours in a program must be taught by full-time faculty

Professional Involvement

The program shall demonstrate formal, regular interaction with at least one professional forensic science or forensic investigation professional organization.

Curriculum

No course may be used to satisfy more than one of the standards in the three groups below.

Natural Science Core Courses (24 credit hours)

Biology: at least two courses, one of which includes an associated laboratory (7 credit hours) (Emphasis in the second semester course should be on human biology)
Physics: at least two courses, with a laboratory component, but laboratory component is not required (8 credit hours)
Chemistry: two semesters of General Chemistry with Lab (8)
Two semesters of organic chemistry with Lab (7-8) at least two courses. This requirement might consist of a one-semester survey of organic chemistry with Lab, followed by a survey course in biochemistry without a lab

Scene Investigation and Law Topics, at least 15 instructional hours per topic. (An instructional hour is approximately one meeting a week for 50 minutes every week of the term.)

Forensic science survey
Criminal Investigation (Survey)
Crime Scene Investigation and Assessment (Survey)
Search and Seizure Law
Crime Scene and Evidence Photography and Videography
Computer-based crime scene programs and tools (e.g., “measure and diagram” programs)
Report writing, case preparation, testimony, ethics and professional responsibility

Required Forensic Investigative Topics, at least 15 instructional hours per topic

Forensic biology overview/Collection of biological evidence
Forensic chemistry (drug, alcohol, toxicology) overview/Collection of evidence
Pattern evidence for individualization overview/Collection of evidence
Pattern evidence for reconstruction / reconstruction/documentation overview
Trace and materials evidence overview/Collection of evidence
Fire and Explosion Investigation
Death investigation

Elective Forensic Investigative Topics, minimum of 5 topics and at least 5 instructional hours/topic covered

Managing investigations in special situations (e.g., cold, snow, excessive heat, crowds as in public areas, scenes on busy public highways, etc.)
Recognition and processing of fingerprint evidence
Recognition and processing of entomological evidence at death scenes
Recognition and collection of computer and other digital evidence
Recognition and collection of soil evidence
Clandestine drug lab processing and disassembly
Footwear and footwear impressions
Recognition and collection of botanicals (e.g., pollens)
Recognition and collection of anthropological evidence (e.g., animal and/or human remains) (requires considerable anatomy and physiology knowledge)

Supervised and evaluated internship, or practicum, or suitable capstone

Program Director

The program director shall be full-time and appropriately qualified to provide leadership in forensic investigation education, so that students are adequately prepared for forensic investigation practice. The program director shall have:

  • Minimum of a Master’s or professional degree appropriate for a forensic investigation program and at least three years relevant experience as a forensic investigation practitioner in an operational setting (the three years not including any training period)
  • Documented management experience appropriate to the duties assigned to the position.

Issues the subcommittee have wrestled with include the following:

> Does considering accreditation of these programs make educational sense? That is, what is the real employment market for people with these degrees? What does a student do with such a degree if s/he cannot find gainful employment in the investigative field (say, as opposed to a degree in forensic science or a degree in criminal justice)? The type of degree being discussed has a basis in the hard sciences, but not enough hard science to enable someone with the degree to work as a scientist. Do you believe that someone with this degree has a competitive advantage over someone with a CJ degree? Do you believe that someone with this degree would be qualified to be a latent print or firearms examiner (after appropriate training)?

> We are suggesting that there be a substantial but not overly onerous science requirement as the basis for this degree. It has been suggested that these requirements will be considered too rigorous, and that this will discourage programs from seeking accreditation. FEPAC feels, however, that the goal is to raise the current standards, and thus not to water down curricular requirements in order to attract accreditation applicants. There would have to be sufficient tenure-track full-time faculty with expertise to teach the subject matter.

Please forward comments to Nancy Jackson, FEPAC Director of Accreditation, at njackson@aafs.org.