Research Report Digest, Issue 12
In NIJ’s Research Report Digest, you will find brief descriptions of studies in various criminal justice disciplines, such as crime and forensic sciences, and evaluations of technologies that are used in the law enforcement and corrections fields.
This issue includes reports based on NIJ-funded research that were added to the NCJRS Abstracts Database from April–June 2013.
Find research reports related to:
Evaluation of Internet Child Safety Materials Used by ICAC Task Forces in School and Community Settings, Final Report (pdf, 114 pages)
Authors: Lisa M. Jones, Ph.D.; Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ph.D.; Wendy A. Walsh, Ph.D.
This project evaluated the content of current internet safety education program materials and how law enforcement presenters and school personnel deliver them. The results indicate that current messages and educational approaches fail to incorporate critical elements of effective prevention education, including research-based messages, skill-based learning objectives, opportunities for youth to practice new skills, and sufficient time for learning. The analyses indicate that the field has been slow to include research-based information on Internet predators and online harassment. Also, no research supports the assumption that popular educational slogans and messages regarding privacy and digital reputation concerns will lead to improved online behavior. The authors conclude that most materials are highly speculative and experimental, and recommend developing a more effective approach.
Examination of Resident Abuse in Assisted Living Facilities (pdf, 45 pages)
Author: Nicholas Castle, Ph.D.
This study examined direct care workers' and administrators' perceptions of abuse in assisted living facilities. Overall, the study found that resident-to-resident abuse in assisted living facilities is more common than staff abuse of residents, which is relatively uncommon. In both cases, verbal abuse and psychological abuse were reported more often than sexual abuse or material exploitation. Findings also show very few associations between workers' demographic characteristics and resident abuse. However, resident characteristics such as dementia and physical limitations, and administrator characteristics such as short tenure and lower education level, are all associated with high levels of abuse. Additionally, administrators and employees alike shared the perception that resident abuse by staff is relatively uncommon.
Project Safe Neighborhoods Case Study Report: District of Nebraska (Case Study 9) (pdf, 44 pages)
Authors: Natalie Kroovand Hipple, Ph.D.; Heather A. Perez, M.S.; Edmund F. McGarrell, Ph.D.; Nicholas Corsaro, M.A.; T. Hank Robinson, Ph.D.; Leigh Culver, Ph.D.
This case study researched the implementation and impact of the Project Safe Neighborhoods intervention in Omaha, Nebraska. Overall, the average number of firearm offenses was reduced from 77.4 offenses per month to 61.6 offenses per month following intervention. During the same period, property offenses remained stable, suggesting that PSN's involvement led to the decline in gun crime.
Project Safe Neighborhoods Case Study Report: Southern District of Alabama (Case Study 10) (pdf, 37 pages)
Authors: Natalie Kroovand Hipple, Ph.D.; Timothy O'Shea, Ph.D.; Edmund F. McGarrell, Ph.D.
This case study researched the implementation and impact of the Project Safe Neighborhoods intervention in Mobile, Alabama. Study findings show a decline in total gun crime, all violent crime with a gun, robberies with a gun, and assaults with a gun. While the rate of homicides with a gun did not change significantly, gunshot admissions to the local trauma center declined, validating the police crime data. During the same period, property crime increased slightly, indicating that the decline in gun crime held when controlling for the trend in property crime. This suggests that the decline in gun crime was directly related to intervention rather than to a general decline in all crime.
Project Safe Neighborhoods Case Study Report: Middle District of North Carolina (Case Study 11) (pdf, 49 pages)
Authors: Natalie Kroovand Hipple, Ph.D.; James M. Frabutt, Ph.D.; Nicholas Corsaro, M.A.; Edmund F. McGarrell, Ph.D.; M.J. Gathings, Ph.D.
This case study researched the implementation and impact of the Project Safe Neighborhoods intervention in the Middle District of North Carolina. In Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem, total gun crimes (homicides with a firearm, robberies with a firearm, and aggravated assaults with a firearm) declined following implementation. In Greensboro and Winston-Salem, the decline was statistically significant. The city of Salisbury also experienced a decline in gun crime; however, given the small population size and the low base rate of gun crime, it is difficult to assess the impact.
Exploratory Study of Juvenile Orders of Protection as a Remedy for Dating Violence (pdf, 172 pages)
Authors: Andrew Klein, Ph.D.; Amy Salomon, Ph.D.; Laura Elwyn, Ph.D.; Amy Barasch, Esq.; Jane L. Powers, Ph.D.; Mary Maley, M.S.; James A. Gilmer, M.A.; Matthew Pirchner, M.A.; Ian Harris, Esq.; Jennifer Sarah Tiffany, Ph.D.; Deinera Exner-Cortens
The goal of this research was to understand teenagers' use of orders of protection as a remedy for dating violence. Focus groups revealed that teens are unfamiliar with an expanded law allowing them to secure orders for dating violence without parental involvement, and that they face substantial barriers in obtaining these orders. Study data shows that more than 90 percent of petitioners were female, and all were teenagers. The majority of respondents were males just under the age of 21, and most had prior criminal histories. Although the majority of teen petitioners studied returned to court more than once, most received only one or two temporary orders lasting around a month, and few respondents were charged with violating the orders during that time. However, analysis of arrest and police incident reports, as well as new petitions taken out by study petitioners indicates that a little more than a quarter of the respondents re-abused their victims within one to three years following the initial petition.
Biomarkers of Human Decomposition Ecology and the Relationship to Postmortem Interval (pdf, 91 pages)
Author: Franklin E. Damann, Ph.D.
This project evaluated the physicochemical and microbial characteristics of soil samples acquired from the University of Tennessee Anthropology Research Facility (ARF), non-ARF soils, and skeletal tissue exposed to various levels of human decomposition and advancing postmortem intervals (PMIs). Results of the physicochemical analyses of ARF landscape soils show no differences among the decomposition sample groups inside the facility; however, all sample groups inside were significantly different (p < 0.05) from the non-ARF samples. Bacterial community data augmented the physicochemical data by identifying significant differences inside the ARF between decomposition sites with constant decomposition and those with little to no decomposition, suggesting microbial sensitivity to slight ecological change. Sites with a lot of decomposition contained elevated levels of chemoorganotrophic and sulfate-reducing bacteria and a reduction in acidobacteria, indicating a change in the community of underlying bacteria in response to carcass enrichment and ammonification of the soil.
Temporally related trends in bacterial metagenomic profiles were observed among the PMI samples of grave soil and bone. Regardless of origin, the same bacterial phyla were observed, with only the relative abundance changing over time. Proteobacteria were most abundant in all samples. The most fluctuation among samples occurred with firmicutes, bacteroidetes and actinobacteria. Firmicutes appeared more frequently in the earlier samples than did Bacteroidetes and Actinobacteria. Bacteroidetes dominated the middle phase to the 20-month PMI sample, at which time actinobacteria dominated the three phyla at the 48-month terminus of this project.
Closed System DNA Purification for Degraded, Compromised Evidence in Microfluidic Devices (pdf, 53 pages)
Author: James P. Landers
The goal of this grant was to develop a volume reduction solid phase extraction microchip capable of accommodating large volumes. The device was applied to degraded and compromised samples, and to the purification of mitochondrial DNA. It also was demonstrated in a multiplexed format for as few as two samples. The devices were then field-tested in a forensic laboratory using non-probative evidentiary samples. Study results show the technology is a successful method for processing a wide-variety of large volume, degraded, inhibited biological samples in a timely, cross-contamination-free manner.
Compact, Low-Cost Body Cavity Screening Device (pdf, 54 pages)
Author: Erik Magnuson
This study examined electric field tomography as a potential technology for developing a low-cost, non-invasive body-cavity screening device. To overcome the inherent low resolution of the tomography, researchers developed a multi-frequency method using images acquired over frequencies ranging from one to 20 MHz to build a linear model and decompose the different object types (e.g., muscle, bone, plastic) in the image. This study demonstrated the feasibility of the multi-frequency method using simulated data and actual images.
Designer Amphetamines in Forensic Toxicology Casework (pdf, 90 pages)
Author: Sarah Kerrigan, Ph.D.
Psychedelic amphetamines are an emerging class of designer drugs capable of producing a complex array of adrenergic and hallucinogenic effects. The purpose of this study was to evaluate limitations in existing methodologies for detecting these drugs in biological samples, and develop new procedures for detecting them. First, the author conducted a systematic evaluation of the cross-reactivity of nine commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays using 11 psychedelic amphetamines. Study findings show some cross-reactivity toward 4-methylthioamphetamine; however, cross-reactivity toward the 10 remaining drugs was extremely low (< 0.4%). As a result, laboratories that rely on immunoassay rather than more broad spectrum chromatographic screening techniques may fail to detect these substances.
A procedure for using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry and solid phase extraction to detect psychedelic amphetamines in urine was developed. Additionally, liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry was utilized to detect the drugs in blood and urine. These methods allowed for the simultaneous detection of 15 psychostimulants at sub-ng/mL concentrations.
Determination of Unique Fracture Patterns in Glass and Glassy Polymers (pdf, 99 pages)
Authors: Frederic A. Tulleners, M.A.; John Thornton, D.Crim; Allison C. Baca, B.S.
The purpose of this research was to illustrate that repetitive fractures, under controlled conditions on target materials such as glass window panes and glass bottles, are different and unique. The study documented the fracture patterns of 60 glass panes, 60 glass bottles, and 60 plastic tail light lens covers, and compared fracture patterns to that of every other fracture pattern within its category. Study results show that no overall fracture patterns were duplicated in the glass window pane or glass bottle experiments. Some similarities were noted in a limited number of specific fracture lines; however, the overall patterns were not duplicated.
Developing an Empirically Based Ranking Order for Bone Sampling: Examining the Differential DNA Yield Rates Between Human Skeletal Elements Over Increasing Post Mortem Intervals (pdf, 78 pages)
Authors: Amy Z. Mundorff, Ph.D.; Jonathan Davoren, M.S.; Shannon Weitz, B.S.
This two-phase study sought to establish an empirically based ranking of all skeletal bones according to each bones capacity to yield DNA, and establish skeletal sampling guidelines for decomposed, mummified, and relatively recent skeletal remains. Study findings indicate that bones typically sampled for DNA, such as the femur and tibia, do not perform as well as bones that are generally overlooked in DNA sampling. For instance, predominantly cancellous bones outperformed predominantly cortical bones in terms of the DNA quantity and STR profiles obtained, and are easier to sample. Generally, the DNA recovered from samples was lower as the advancing postmortem intervals increased.
Development of a Surrogate Bruising Detection System to Describe Bruising Patterns Associated with Common Childhood Falls, Final Report (pdf, 66 pages)
Authors: Gina Bertocci, Ph.D.; Raymond Dsouza, M.S.
Researchers sought to design and develop a prototype surrogate bruising detection device to predict bruising patterns in children when adapted to a test dummy. The resulting device includes custom-designed, low-cost force sensors that are integrated into matrices incorporated into a "sensing skin" that adapts to a commercial test dummy representing a 12-month-old child. It features a data acquisition system that can capture and record force sensor output and location during a simulated fall or other event. It also includes a computerized body-mapping system that displays color-coded sensor output indicating the level of force applied to specific body regions, along with the location of that force. By using this detection device in future mock laboratory experiments, researchers will be able to measure and record levels of impact force, document the locations of impact on the test dummy, and ascertain the number of impact points encountered.
Development of a Thin Layer Chromatography Method for the Separation of Enantiomers Using Chiral Mobile Phase Additives (pdf, 55 pages)
Authors: Robyn L. Larson; Kelly A. Howerter; Jacob L. Easter
The goal of this project was to develop an inexpensive and simple method for enantiomer determinations as an alternative to using mixed crystal test methods, polarimetry or more expensive instrumental methods. Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of ß-cyclodextrin, hydroxypropyl-ß-cyclodextrin, and vancomycin as chiral mobile-phase additives in performing enantiomeric separations on drug substances using both reverse phase and normal phase thin layer chromatography (TLC). They also briefly explored the use of chiral TLC plates and microcrystalline cellulose TLC plates. Study findings revealed much about the use of chiral mobile phase additives in TLC, but they did not identify an effective and consistently reproducible method.
Evaluating the Use of DNA and RNA Degradation for Estimating the Post-Mortem Interval (pdf, 60 pages)
Authors: Arpad A. Vass, Ph.D.; Rachel I. Fleming, Ph.D.; SallyAnn Harbison, Ph.D.; James M. Curran, Ph.D.; Eletra Williams
The goal of this project was to evaluate the stability of nucleic acids in nails to determine if both DNA and RNA can be co-extracted in levels suitable for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis. The authors developed multiplex PCR assays to measure the rate of degradation of messenger RNA (mRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA) and DNA. By placing nails in different environmental conditions (air, soil and water), the authors found that nails are protected from other environmental factors, and that nucleic acids (both DNA and RNA) can be amplified from samples left submerged in water or placed in soil for 120 days (1,043 accumulated degree days).
Expansion of a Cheminformatic Database of Spectral Data for Forensic Chemists and Toxicologists (pdf, 41 pages)
Authors: Peter Stout; Katherine Moore; Megan Grabenauer; Jeri Ropero-Miller
ForensicDB is a no-cost, peer-reviewed, Web-accessible, continuously-updated cheminformatic database of spectral methods for use by the forensics community. This project sought to expand ForensicDB's capacity for user traffic and database queries, increase associate curators' participation, and further develop software automation to better manage the records submitted. The project led to an increase in database traffic and community submissions, and an increase in volunteers willing to review spectral data. It also resulted in the development of a Web portal for user submissions that is in its final stages of testing.
Forensic Analysis of Ignitable Liquid Fuel Fires in Buildings (pdf, 215 pages)
Authors: Christopher L. Mealy; Andrew J. Wolfe; Daniel T. Gottuk
The goals of this experimental study were to characterize the differences in fire dynamics and fire damage between ignitable liquid fuel fires in compartments versus in the open. It also sought to evaluate the reliability of fire patterns and fire debris sampling using GC/MS ignitable liquid residue testing to identify the presence of ignitable liquid fuel in compartment fires relative to a range of fuel types, flooring materials, and thermal conditions. These objectives were evaluated through a series of small and full-scale fire tests. This report addresses the forensic analysis of the large-scale fires and addresses pattern formation, evaluation of the utility of calcination measurements of gypsum wallboard, and the persistence of ignitable liquid residues.
Identification and Separation of Evidence Mixtures Using SNP-Based FISH Techniques and Laser Microdissection (pdf, 87 pages)
Authors: Abigail Bathrick, M.F.S.; Jared Latiolais, M.S., M.F.S.; Robert Bever, Ph.D.
Past research has shown that male/female cellular mixtures of similar morphology can be separated successfully using X/Y chromosome fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) probing. The goal of this research was to separate cellular mixtures of the same morphology and gender by developing FISH probes based on human genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Findings indicate that the FISH techniques used in this research were not suitable for detecting single SNP differences between individuals.
The authors also evaluated multiple laser microdissection (LM) sample processing techniques to determine which methods would allow them to collect nuclei directly and eliminate the need to extract DNA prior to amplification. The tested methods included cytogenetic on-slide lysis techniques and direct placement of LM-collected cells into amplification reactions.
In addition, various amplification systems, amplification additives, and extraction techniques were investigated as alternative methods for processing samples in labs using LM technologies. Although the on-slide lysis and direct amplification techniques were incompatible with this type of sample, the ZyGEM forensicGEM™ Saliva extraction and Promega's PowerPlex® 16 HS System showed promise for work with LM-collected samples. These techniques would also be ideal for labs attempting to process difficult evidence containing low copy number cellular mixtures.
Identification and Separation of Same Gender Mixtures of Various Cell Types Using Interphase FISH Techniques and Laser Microdissection (pdf, 76 pages)
Authors: Abigail Bathrick, M.F.S.; Jared Latiolais, M.S., M.F.S.; Robert Bever, Ph.D.
The goal of this research was to improve the methods of forensic DNA mixture resolution by improving laser microdissection (LM) techniques for cell mixture separations. While sperm and epithelial cell sexual assault mixtures can be separated easily based on morphological differences, mixtures of the same cell type are more difficult to separate. The key objective of these studies was to separate cellular mixtures of similar morphology and the same gender by using sequence-specific fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) probes, which are based on the genetic polymorphisms associated with the Duffy and ABO blood groups.
Findings indicate that the FISH techniques used in this research were not suitable for differentiation of the ABO blood groups. However, suitable techniques could be achieved through future research of other FISH methods or by pursuing other genetic marker systems consisting of larger genetic differences.
Ignitable Liquid Fuel Fires in Buildings - A Study of Fire Dynamics (pdf, 179 pages)
Authors: Christopher L. Mealy; Daniel T. Gottuk
The purpose of this research was to further develop an understanding of enclosure fire effects by conducting full-scale fire tests in both open and enclosed scenarios, with both Class A and liquid fuels present. The results provide insight into the varying effects that an enclosure can have on the burning dynamics of a fuel, and identify the impact of certain variables, including fuel type, fuel location, and ventilation conditions.
Independent Validation Test of Microscopic Saw Mark Analysis (pdf, 58 pages)
Authors: Jennifer C. Love, Ph.D.; Sharon M. Derrick, Ph.D.; Jason M. Wiersema, Ph.D.
Microscopic saw mark analysis is based on the easily recognized qualitative and quantitative characteristics of a saw mark using standard laboratory equipment. However, because the potential error rate has not been defined, microscopic saw mark analysis fails to meet the requirements set forth by the Federal Rules of Evidence. This independent validation test confirmed that microscopic saw mark analysis is a statistically sound approach to evaluating the reliability and accuracy of a class characteristic recognition method, and should serve as a model for testing similar methods. Although the error rate associated with microscopic saw mark analysis for the chosen saw types was successfully defined, the number of saws used in this study limits the applicability of the results.
Manipulative Virtual Tools for Tool Mark Characterization (pdf, 50 pages)
Authors: S. Zhang; L. S. Chumbley
The purpose of this research was to develop a methodology for generating a three-dimensional computer simulation of a tool tip. This virtual tool can be used to produce virtual tool marks-a series of predicted markings allowing for variations in the applied force, twist of the tool, and angle of attack. Experimental results are very promising. In a preliminary study of both sides of six tool tips (156 virtual marks) and 34 real marks, the method can distinguish matches from non-matches with few false negatives. For matches, it can also generally distinguish between marks made at high angles and low angles. The experimental data indicate that the virtual mark can predict the angle for the real mark within five degrees of the actual angle.
NIJ Proposal to Enhance Methods for Studying Degraded DNA, Final Technical Report (pdf, 165 pages)
Authors: Brian M. Kemp; Jodi Lynn Barta; Kelli Flanigan; Colin Grier; Cara Monroe; Justin E. Teisberg; Misa Winters
This three-part study evaluated the efficacy of sodium hypochlorite in removing contaminating DNA from bone surfaces using quantitative PCR; the overall ability of nine different thermo-stable polymerases and polymerase blends to amplify mitochondrial DNA; and the extent of post-mortem DNA damage in degraded samples. Findings from phase one show that no sodium hypochlorite treatment removed 100 percent of the contamination across all of the experiments, and that mitochondrial DNA preservation across individual bones is highly variable and unrelated to bone density. In phase two, Omni Klentaq LA outperformed the other eight polymerases in percent return of salmonid mitochondrial DNA sequences and percent of samples that amplified when spiked with an ancient DNA positive control. Phase three findings show that 16.1 percent of the 211 sequences not compromised by contamination exhibited miscoding lesions presumably due to post-mortem damage.
Quantitative Analysis of High Velocity Bloodstain Patterns (pdf, 102 pages)
Authors: William Ristenpart; Fred Tulleners; Sonya Siu; Jennifer Saifi; Faye Springer
This study sought to establish statistically significant classifications of blood spatter patterns resulting from the interactions between a weapon, suspect and victim. The study found that quantitative metrics involving the spatially dependent size distribution of droplets within a spatter pattern could be an objective means of differentiating the spatter patterns of gunshots and blunt instruments. Additionally, human assessments yielded low error-rates for gunshot spatter patterns (0.2 percent), but very high error rates for blunt instrument spatter patterns (37 percent). These findings strongly suggest that bloodstain pattern analysis experts should exercise great caution when identifying a pattern from a gunshot or blunt instrument impact in the absence of secondary indicia. Further efforts should be made to develop and refine quantitative image analysis procedures based on droplet spatial distributions.
Standoff Through the Wall Imaging Sensor User Evaluation, FCC Certification and Performance Improvement (pdf, 36 pages)
Authors: AKELA, Inc.
This report documents the user testing and evaluation, and successful Federal Communications Commission certification, of the AKELA Standoff Through-the-Wall Imaging Radar system. The system can detect stationary individuals from standoff ranges in excess of 30 meters behind non-metallic building walls of simple structures and through concrete block and steel-reinforced concrete walls. Current capabilities are limited by the lack of device data on structures that may be encountered in law enforcement operational scenarios. This limitation is also reflected in the interpretation of device display data when the operator has no prior knowledge or associated training.
Statistical Examination of Handwriting Characteristics Using Automated Tools (pdf, 85 pages)
Author: Sargur N. Srihari
This project sought to develop probabilistic models for several of the steps in the Questioned Document handwriting examination process, with a particular focus on handwriting characteristics. Experiments were based on a threshold and Gaussian model. The mean values of the cursive and print training sets were found to be 0.57 and 2.08, respectively. The threshold was set at 1.33. Of the cursive validation set, a total of 1,775 documents were found to have values below the threshold, yielding the correct classification of 90.8 percent. Of the hand-printed validation set, 375 documents were found to have values above the threshold, yielding correct classification of 92 percent of the documents. Overall, this led to the correct classification of an average of 94.5 percent of the documents. The Gaussian experiment yielded very similar results, correctly classifying 95 percent of the hand-printed set and 90.5 percent of the cursive set.
Courts and Corrections
Multi-Site Assessment of Five Court-Focused Elder Abuse Initiatives, Executive Summary (pdf, 8 pages)
Authors: Lori A. Stiegel, J.D.; Pamela B. Teaster, Ph.D.
This study examined five court-focused elder abuse initiatives to assess how they handle elder abuse cases and determine whether they improve the criminal justice response to those cases.
Findings show the initiatives facilitate greater access to justice, and better court outcomes for victims through court accommodations by increasing judges' and other professionals' knowledge of elder abuse, and by providing emotional support throughout the court process. They also provide services that enhance victim safety, prevent further abuse and facilitate the prosecution of elder abuse cases, and they connect victims with services that may help address underlying problems and prevent future court cases, they also handle elder abuse cases more efficiently and with fewer delays. However, the study also found that the initiatives do almost nothing to self-assess their impact and outcomes, and that the initiatives should strengthen their evaluation and data collection efforts.
No More Rights Without Remedies: An Impact Evaluation of the National Crime Victim Law Institute's Victims' Rights Clinics, Final Technical Report (pdf, 125 pages)
Authors: Robert C. Davis; James M. Anderson; Susan Howley; Carol Dorris; Julie Whitman
The National Crime Victim Law Institute's (NCVLI) victims' rights clinics promote awareness, education and enforcement of crime victims' rights in the criminal justice system. This study evaluated the clinics' impact on the expansion of victims' rights, court officials' attitudes toward victims' rights, the extent to which victims' rights are honored in the criminal disposition process, and the treatment of victims' rights in print media.
Survey results indicate a small shift in court officials' favorable attitudes towards greater enforcement of victims' rights, and a large shift in criminal justice officials' compliance with victims' rights laws. Victims represented by clinic attorneys were more likely to report that they were notified of the defendants' release from jail, and of case disposition; were referred to counseling services; and had made a victim impact statement. However, victims represented by clinic attorneys were less satisfied with the court process, treatment by court officials, and the outcome of their case. Some inconsistent evidence implied that clinics made a difference in the expansion of victims' rights, both in terms of legislation and appellate decisions. The study did not find a consistent increase in either the number of articles in the print media about victims' rights or in the proportion of articles sympathetic to victims' rights.