Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $1,500,000)
Footwear impressions left behind at crime scenes are commonly investigated and compared to shoes that could be the source of the impressions. However, in the U.S., there is a gap in the capabilities for law enforcement to gather intelligence related to footwear and to utilize that intelligence to assist in developing suspects and linking crimes. One purpose of this proposal is to outline a plan to assess whether a national database that serves as a comprehensive tool to determine the make/model of shoes that caused footwear impressions could be developed and shared with state and local law enforcement agencies.
This proposal would support research and evaluation in two areas: a) the development of public datasets within the database that can be used for statistical evaluation to provide improved interpretation of footwear class characteristics, and b) independent of database assessment and development, provide financial support and strategic input by working group members into decision analysis studies ( a.k.a. black box and/or white box studies) evaluating footwear impression comparisons. Optimally, any database developed will have the potential to store, share, and search footwear characteristics and resulting intelligence information. Such a database would fill a void in current U.S. capabilities, providing access to information that could link crimes and offenders. While this proposal's primary focus relates to the footwear discipline, the development of forensic databases for casework and research support has great need in other forensic disciplines. As such we intend to capitalize on lessons learned from this project and determine if they can be applied to other forensic disciplines.
Footwear impressions are frequently recovered from crime scenes. These impressions can be compared to suspect shoes if the shoes can be identified and obtained. Once shoes are collected, they are analyzed in a laboratory to determine whether or not any of the shoes are the source of the impressions. In cases where a person of interest has not been identified and his/her shoes have not been collected, footwear impressions may be associated with a brand and model of footwear based on the available footwear reference materials (i.e. commercial databases, Internet searches, and footwear catalogs). The FBI Laboratory supports and is a valuable resource for conducting footwear make/model determinations for federal, state and local law enforcement. The current commercial database utilized by the FBI Laboratory has numerous limitations: it requires manual coding (instead of automatically using patternrecognition algorithms), the reference materials comprising the database are not comprehensive of the population of outsole patterns, and the database is difficult to search.