In order to illustrate how research and development (R & D), which this article calls law enforcement's "silent partner," is the foundation of law enforcement's use of forensic evidence, this article presents an overview of the latest research findings involving five non-DNA types of evidence.
These five types of evidence are firearms and tool marks, carpet fibers, robotics, glass, and latent prints. Research funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is currently funding two studies on firearm and tool marks, with results expected by 2016. Cadre Research Laboratory is working on rape 3D ballistics imaging and matching using a novel gel-based sensor that, when touched, conforms to an object's surface and renders a 3D profile in approximately 2 minutes. The National Institute of Standards and Technology received NIJ funding to create an open access database that contains a wide range of two- and three-dimensional data for bullets and cartridge cases. In the area of carpet fibers and particles, NIJ is funding research on very small particles (VSPs) such as dusts, soils, and pollen, which settle on almost every object, including carpet fibers. The study has determined that there are many different VSP combinations on carpet fibers, and they can be removed and analyzed. New technological innovations in robotics are getting lab results back to police investigators more quickly as labs implement technological innovations that reduce time-consuming manual labor. Regarding glass analysis, NIJ-funded studies have examined the discrimination power of elemental analysis for glass. Regarding latent fingerprint analysis, NIJ is continuing to fund studies of the human factors involved in judgments about latent fingerprint matching. Expanded funding of forensics-related R & D is encouraged in this article.