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The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) encourages universities providing forensic science degrees to develop and implement pattern evidence degree programs. FEPAC believes that a paradigm shift in the education and training of pattern evidence disciplines such as latent print analysis, firearms and tool marks analysis, handwriting analysis, and impressions analysis is needed.
The 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, was critical of many areas of forensic science, particularly the areas of pattern and impression evidence.1 Numerous calls for research and education in these disciplines are present throughout the Report. In the discussion concerning forensic science education, the Report states:
Forensic science examiners need additional training in the principles, practices, and contexts of scientific methodology, as well as in the distinctive features of their specialty. … it is crucially important to improve undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs. The legitimization of practices in the forensic science disciplines must be based on established scientific knowledge, principles, and practices, which are best learned through formal education. Apprenticeship has a secondary role. (pg. 238)
Despite the call for formal education programs to address this deficiency, very few programs exist in pattern evidence-based disciplines. The majority of new examiners continue to rely almost exclusively on knowledge passed down from examiner to examiner through on-the-job training and apprenticeships. This is a problem for two reasons.
First, the training period of an entry-level forensic scientist in the pattern evidence disciplines takes a minimum of two years. This is more than twice as long as the training period for entry-level forensic chemists and biologists. If there were more university forensic programs specializing in pattern evidence, as there are in forensic chemistry and biology, then both the theoretical and practical on-the-job training could be significantly reduced.
Second, the continuous passing down of knowledge from one generation of pattern evidence examiners to the next through apprentice-based training impedes the opportunity for implementing new technology. Topological-based computer analysis of pattern evidence has been undergoing research and development for years; yet, minimal progress has been made in transitioning such technology into the crime laboratory. Rather, the field continues to rely on more subjective visual comparisons for the analysis of pattern evidence casework.
It is the belief of FEPAC that a philosophical change is needed in regard to the training and education of future pattern evidence examiners. This change involves forensic professionals, educators, and researchers joining forces with physicists, engineers, and computer scientists to create and implement university curriculums in pattern evidence. Such a change will better prepare graduates for pattern evidence positions in the workplace as well as accelerate the evolution of the pattern evidence disciplines. As the recognized accreditation body for forensic science education in the United States, FEPAC offers this statement of support for the expansion of pattern evidence curricula and welcomes all feedback and requests for further guidance.
1 National Academy of Sciences, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009) https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228091.pdf.