Welcome to NIJ’s Term of the Month. Each month we are featuring a term from our scientific research portfolios informing significant American justice system issues and solutions. Along with a definition, we are providing links to related resources that illuminate the featured term.
August 2021 — Alternate Light Source
In forensic science, an alternate light source uses monochromatic light to detect and identify physical evidence, including bruises, body fluids, hair, clothing fibers, and other trace materials. This technology takes advantage of a material’s inherent luminescent properties that cause it to glow when struck with a specific wavelength of light.
Related NIJ content:
Novel psychoactive substances (NPS), also referred to as designer drugs and synthetic drugs, are an emerging or re-emerging type of illicit substance. NPS are similar in structure and effect to common drugs of abuse, but differ enough that they evade detection with traditional tests and require new scheduling laws. NPS pose serious complications for both consumers and forensic scientists because their use may be linked to severe health problems and their chemical modifications makes them difficult to identify.
Read about research on NPS in the NIJ Journal article, Identifying New Illicit Drugs and Sounding the Alarm in Real Time, and in an article written by NIJ scientist Frances Scott, NPS Discovery and the Hunt for New Drugs of Abuse.
Mass spectrometry is a tool for measuring different fragments of a compound. In forensic science, mass spectrometry can be used, for example, to identify and discriminate individual drugs in seized substances. A mass spectrometer takes a sample, ionizes and breaks the compounds in it, and sorts the fragments by the ratio of their weight to their charge. The pattern of the captured fragments makes a spectral signature that can be used to identify the compound.
Resources and information
- Fast and Portable Drug Testing: Dual-Method Prototype Shows Promise for Court-Admissible Drug Testing
- Carbon-Based Fingerprint Powder as a One-Step Development and Matrix Application for High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry Imaging of Latent Fingerprints
- NIJ-funded research involving mass spectrometry
- Publications from NIJ-funded research involving mass spectrometry
NamUs is a national repository and resource center of information related to missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases. Funded and administered by the National Institute of Justice, NamUs fills the nation’s need for a central, online, secure database of unidentified remains and missing persons records. The database is searchable by all, with biometric and other secure case information accessible only to appropriate, vetted criminal justice users. All NamUs resources are provided at no cost to law enforcement, medical examiners, coroners, allied forensic professionals, and family members of the missing.
Resources and information --
Reintegration is when an individual transitions from being incarcerated in a prison or jail to living in a community and attempting to maintain a crime-free lifestyle.
Technology-facilitated abuse refers to harmful acts or courses of conduct facilitated through digital means that can compromise victims’ privacy and cause them to fear for their safety. Examples of such conduct are cyberstalking, nonconsensual pornography, swatting, doxing, and sextortion.
Personal harm from digital abuse extends far beyond the digital realm. These acts can cause serious psychological distress and damage relationships with family, friends, and partners and disrupt educational and professional pursuits.
Sextortion — A form of cyber extortion featuring an online attack on victim systems, for example through ransomware, in which offenders demand sexual images, sexual favors, or other things of value in exchange for stopping the attack.
Nonconsensual pornography — Distribution of nude or sexually explicit images or videos of an individual without consent.
Cyberstalking — Repeated use of electronic communications to stalk a person or group.
Doxing — Public release of private and sensitive personal identifying information about an individual without their consent. (The word “doxing” is derived from “documents.”)
Swatting — False report of an emergency to trigger an emergency response, specifically deployment of a SWAT team, to a location where no emergency exists.
Pediatric bruising patterns are tell-tale bruising patterns in injured children in order to differentiate between accidental injuries and physical abuse. Bruising on a child’s ear, buttocks, feet, or hands, for example, are not typical of accidental injuries and should alert physicians to possible abuse.
- Child Abuse or Accident? Bringing Science to Pediatric Emergency Departments and Forensic Investigations
- Impact Sites Representing Potential Bruising Locations Associated With Rearward Falls in Children
- Development of a Surrogate Bruising Detection System to Describe Bruising Patterns Associated with Common Childhood Falls
- Bruising as a Forensic Marker of Physical Elder Abuse
Using data, analysis, and research to complement experience and professional judgment, in order to provide the best possible police service to the public.
Evidence-Based Policing refers to scientific evidence, not evidence in the legal or investigative sense.