Many of us are fascinated by the multitude of criminal investigation shows on television such as
Law & Order
, to name a few. The
Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence
(CSAFE) based at Iowa State University is advancing the field of forensic science used during criminal investigations.
CSAFE researchers are developing statistical techniques that forensic scientists can use to determine evidence's validity. Unlike forensic DNA analysis - which has an underlying biological foundation, a well-defined measurement process, and statistically-based error rates with clear and repeatable standards - many other forms of forensic analysis lack the same degree of statistical rigor. In fact, there is no statistical validity or scientific support for evidence such as fingerprints, bite marks, or bullet matching.
Forensic evidence should be one of the most objective and valid forms of testimony in a criminal case. In the past few decades, however, wrongful convictions have been made and criminals have walked free because of a struggle to analyze and interpret evidence.
To address this issue, CSAFE was created.
Since its inception in 2015, the CSAFE team has been responding with credible and reliable solutions to quantify the uncertainty, limitations, and errors associated with human factors; pattern evidence, such as shoe prints, handwriting, and bullet impressions; and digital evidence, such as data from cellphones and computers.
Using fingerprint powder to
image a shoe outsole.
A collaboration between Iowa State, the University of California - Irvine, the University of Virginia, and Carnegie Mellon University, the CSAFE team is comprised of 60 researchers and national practitioners within the fields of statistics, engineering, biology, computer science, and law. Additionally, CSAFE institutions partner with state and federal crime laboratories to evaluate current practices, collect and analyze forensic data, and aid in the understanding and processing of evidence.
CSAFE then provides training and education to forensic professionals, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement officers so they can apply these new methods, improving accuracy and objectivity.
"Engagement with legal and forensic communities has been very well received," said Alicia Carriquiry, CSAFE director and professor of statistics at Iowa State University. "They want to be better at their jobs, and we want to help them. Building and applying a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation for the analysis and interpretation of forensic evidence has the potential to significantly impact society."