Lawmakers Visit to Chicago for NCSL and NIJ's "Forensic Science Model Site Visit"

A group of 13 state legislators from 10 states took part in the "Forensic Science Model Site Visit" held in Chicago, Illinois on June 6-8, 2010. The visit was planned and carried out under a partnership project with NCSL's Criminal Justice Program and the National Institute of Justice.

The Site Visit was designed to give lawmakers from across the country the opportunity to learn about the capabilities and needs of state run forensic laboratories as well as the enactments that can affect their operation. Legislators toured the Forensic Science Center at Chicago, a state of the art forensic laboratory, and the most advanced of the 9 laboratories in the Illinois State Police ("ISP") System. During the visit, legislators were able to speak with lab technicians about the work they do and observe demonstrations in forensic disciplines ranging from microscopy to drug analysis. The tour was conducted by lab officials and authorized by ranking members of ISP. The ISP host team included: Colonel Scott E. Giles, Deputy Director, ISP, Division of Forensic Services; Arlene Hall, Commander, Division of Forensic Services, Forensic Services Command; and Dr. Jan Johnson, Director of Forensic Science Center at Chicago.  

After the visit, legislators heard from speakers in three sessions covering various developments in forensic science. First, the keynote address from John M. Collins, Executive Director of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors, provided an overview for the history of forensic practice. From the St. Valentines Day Massacre to present day, he laid out the evolution of forensic science's role in fighting crime and discussed the impact of what has become known as the "CSI Effect".  From there, lawmakers were addressed by panels of experts on the economy's affect on forensic practitioners and current forensic legislative issues.

Speaking on the Economy panel were: Gerry Laporte, National Institute of Justice; Representative Jim Durkin, who represents the 82nd district in Illinois; and Commander Arlene Hall. Commander Hall addressed the challenges put on ISP's laboratory system when new laws increase the volume of casework coming through their door. Similarly, Representative Durkin discussed the responsibility legislators have to visit their state labs and to understand what kind of impact their legislation will have before it is enacted. Following these concerns, Mr. Gerry Laporte discussed the various federal funding opportunities available to help ease the financial strain on state laboratories.

The Legislative Reform panel included: Representative Susana Mendoza, who represents the 1st district in Illinois; Mike Hood, Illinois Deputy Attorney General, Criminal Justice; and Colonel Scott Giles. This panel spurred a spirited discussion on the implementation and effects of laws that collect DNA samples from persons upon arrest. Legislators and panelists engaged in dialogue bringing out all sides of the issue and provided each other with a deeper understanding of the rationale behind viewpoints of proponents and opponents to this kind of legislation.

At the end of the Site Visit, legislators met for a breakfast to discuss what they had learned, what further information would be useful to them and what they could do to improve the practice of forensic science in their own state.    

If you would like more information on the "Forensic Science Model Site Visit", please contact Sarah Hammond or Richard Williams at NCSL . Also, be on the lookout for our Searchable Database of DNA Laws to be launched in August, 2010.


Posted July 15, 2010