OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University has received $200,000 in federal money to fund improvements to the forensic science program in the Department of Criminal Justice. The new equipment will offer students more hands-on opportunities with forensic DNA work in a laboratory setting.
The primary function of the lab will be teaching undergraduate students the latest techniques in biological evidence analysis. Long term, WSU faculty envision the lab might serve as a training facility for local and state criminal justice professionals and provide a university-wide center for performing original research in forensic DNA analysis.
"Education is one key to addressing the tremendous backlog of DNA cases nationwide," said Brent Horn, assistant professor of criminal justice. "By giving students both classroom education and experience in the field, we'll be providing the criminal justice system with qualified personnel ready to tackle the extensive casework backlog."
WSU officials said Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's support was instrumental in landing the project. Funding for the lab was earmarked in the Department of Justice appropriations budget for 2005. The university is pursuing partnerships with public and private sources to establish ongoing funding for the project long term.
Like fingerprints, DNA evidence has proven a critical tool in helping law enforcement officials identify criminals and indisputably link them to their crimes. By analyzing biological evidence left behind by perpetrators at crime scenes, laboratory researchers can produce DNA profiles of the culprit. The success of DNA in helping solve crimes has led to a dramatic increase in the number of requests for DNA analysis of biological evidence from federal, states and local crime laboratories, creating a significant work backlog.
An attorney general report to Congress in 2004 estimated that 542,700 criminal cases with biological evidence required forensic DNA analysis, including 52,000 homicides and 169,000 sexual assaults. In an effort to address the rising demand for DNA analysis, the Advancing Justice through DNA Technology Initiative was proposed in 2004, which provides $1 billion in federal funding to address three major areas where DNA evidence is used: solving crimes, protecting the innocent and identifying missing persons.
The Department of Criminal Justice's crime lab at WSU currently provides students with hands-on training in ballistics, drug analysis, fingerprinting and trace evidence comparison. The department partners with criminal justice agencies along the Wasatch Front to teach students all elements of a forensic investigation, from evidence collection and preservation to lab analysis. The addition of a forensic DNA laboratory will enhance the learning opportunities for students and law enforcement officials in the field.
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