Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation
Criminal Justice, PhD
Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)
program evaluation; forensics; policing; crime scene units; forensic standards; tennessee
Throughout the past three decades, the criminal justice system has decidedly employed new technologies for the purposes of establishing guilt or innocence. Forensic science, with its synthesis of scientific methodology and investigative considerations of law enforcement, ushered in the development of DNA profiling and forever changed the process of crime scene investigation.This shift in focus also led to a shift in the individuals involved in investigation, producing the widespread formation of stand-alone crime scene units. Utilizing both civilian and sworn employees of a law enforcement agency, these units became responsible for the documentation, collection, and preservation of evidence that would later make or break a criminal case in the courtroom. The transition with the increased use of forensic science resulted in a shift in legal approaches and methodologies that began to place more value on physical rather than circumstantial evidence; in due time, “scientific proof” became a necessity in the courtroom and led to an indispensable reliance on crime scene units. Yet, for all the focus placed on forensic science following the advent of DNA profiling, little attention has been given to the crime scene units responsible for this evidence collection and preservation. A lack of national standards for crime scene units and the nature of law enforcement organizations in the United States resulted in the independent development of units each with independently developed standard operations, collection procedures, and preservation methods, with no uniform professional standards as to how this crucial evidence should be handled. The purpose of the current study was to fill this gap through the exploration, collection and analysis of data related to the operations of the forensics unit of the Knoxville Police Department. The data was collected as part of a formative program evaluation with both process and outcome components. Findings from this research were compared to the standards recommended by the National Institute of Justice (2009), as well as to standards developed through prior research on characteristics that resulted in effective crime scene investigation (Kelty, Julian, & Robertson, 2011; Ludwig, Edgar, & Maguire, 2014). Lastly, findings of the current research were compared to those of Rausch’s (2015) study that assessed the standards, education levels, training, and national certification of forensics units across the United States. Comparing the current and previous data allowed recommendations to be developed that would contribute to improvement in crime scene unit operations. The program evaluation that sought to identify key components and policies of the unit that contribute to unit effectiveness and efficiency and included both qualitative and quantitative information collected in multiple stages. Perceptions of the “users” of the unit were assessed to determine user perception of the effectiveness of the unit. Additionally, information on the effectiveness and efficiency of unit processes, unit outcomes, and relevant factors that serve to influence unit performance were examined. The evaluation gathered information on these characteristics of the unit and its operations and assessed the extent to which the standards in the police unit meet professional forensic standards and recommendations as set forth in the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report on the status of criminal forensics (National Institute of Justice, 2009). Additionally, information on the nature of organizational relations as they may affect unit performance were assessed. That is, the nature of relations between officers and civilians in the unit as well as aspects of unit subculture were identified and reviewed. The information collected on the nature of these relations were assessed using standards set forth in the research literature as characteristics of effective forensics units and forensic examiners. Lastly, the information collected on KPD was compared to data collected on a national sample of crime scene units (Rausch, 2015) to determine the extent to which KPD was similar to or different from other crime scene units contained in this survey. Participants in this study were sworn and civilian employees of the Crime Scene Unit of KPD and sworn patrol personnel within KPD. Data was collected through mixed methods including survey distribution, interviews and observation within the unit. Data was collected from September 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018; follow-up data collection to provide for a more complete analysis was collected from May 1, 2018 through June 30, 2018. Results indicated that the Crime Scene Unit of KPD was currently operating at a higher standard in comparison to the national recommendations and baseline data collected in prior research (Rausch, 2015). Interpersonal relations within the unit were sound and personnel within the unit were perceived as operating within the context of characteristics that resulted in effective crime scene investigator/unit performance. KPD personnel were mostly satisfied with the services provided by the unit. While this was an evaluation of only one forensics unit with small numbers of unit personnel, the model used for evaluation may be applied in other departments, therefore extending the capabilities to oversee, direct and develop forensics units within the context of evidence-based decision making. Recommendations based on the current work included: gathering data that could be used to assess forensics unit effectiveness and the factors that would facilitate or impede the same, movement toward national forensic standards, and use of the current methodology as a template that could be used to evaluate forensic crime units nationwide.
Rausch, Cassandra Christina, "Furthering understanding of forensic units: a detailed examination of Knoxville police department's crime scene unit." (2018). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 3113.