As this issue of the NIJ Journal goes to press, we are just three weeks away from the 16th annual NIJ Conference, which has become the preeminent gathering for criminal justice practitioners, researchers and policymakers. This year at the Conference, many people will be talking about NIJ’s forensic DNA portfolio. Several new DNA activities are under way or about to get under way:
- A rigorous review of the exonerations of the wrongly convicted to help us better understand how eyewitness testimony, false confessions, forensic science, investigative practices and other issues relate to wrongful convictions.
- A workshop for stakeholders — law enforcement, prosecutors and defense attorneys, crime laboratories and innocence-project advocates — to help states understand how to apply for post-conviction DNA funding.
- An evaluation of post-conviction programs in two states to develop "best practices" and assist in efficient post-conviction reviews and DNA analysis.
NIJ recently held a meeting of the study group for an eyewitness identification field experiment that seeks to understand the impact of asking witnesses to identify suspects using various lineup techniques. Two police departments — Dallas and Washington, D.C. — are participating in the field experiment. Because inaccurate eyewitness identification may be responsible for a large percentage of wrongful convictions, we are especially eager to find the best way to use eyewitness evidence.
Also on the DNA front, NamUs.gov — the nationwide repository of missing persons records and unidentified decedent cases, launched last summer — had its first successes. Two jurisdictions, one in Florida and one in Kentucky, matched the DNA of unidentified human remains to data in NamUs.gov and finally closed two murder cases.
In June, NIJ released findings from an important field experiment that evaluated the use of DNA in burglary cases. The bottom line: Using DNA collected at burglary scenes resulted in twice the number of suspect identifications, arrests and prosecutions. See DNA and Property Crimes for more information. Additional articles are forthcoming in association magazines and the NIJ Journal.
NIJ continues its groundbreaking work to improve the performance of body armor and conducted-energy devices, such as Tasers®. As we go to press, we are planning to release the "Study of Deaths Following Electro Muscular Disruption: Interim Report" and the latest update to NIJ's body armor standard. Future issues of the NIJ Journal will carry stories about all these new developments.
Enjoy the articles in this issue. Our look at best practices in the areas of terrorism and solving cold cases, in particular, highlights NIJ's mission: To use research to answer questions and solve problems for our state and local criminal justice partners.
David W. Hagy
Director, National Institute of Justice
NIJ Journal No. 260, July 2008