In 2007, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office created a statewide Forensic Science Advisory Committee to coordinate and improve forensic science services provided by laboratories that are funded and operated by different governmental agencies throughout the state. The Advisory Committee provides a forum for various members of the criminal justice system, including lab directors, forensic scientists, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and members of the public, to address and collaborate on issues and concerns relating to forensic science services in Arizona.
The Advisory Committee has worked to help measure and standardize forensic science practices throughout Arizona and to increase transparency in lab operations. The Advisory Committee also addresses legal and policy issues relating to forensic science and coordinates interdisciplinary education. One of the Advisory Committee’s most significant accomplishments is the creation of the Arizona Forensic Science Academy, which utilizes local and nationally recognized forensic scientists to jointly educate prosecutors and defense attorneys in basic and advanced forensic science courses.
The advisory committee was formed in response to a recommendation by a DNA Task Force convened by the Attorney General. The Task Force issued a report detailing the need for a more permanent advisory group:
Extraordinary developments in DNA technology over the past several years have dramatically increased the available pool of evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing. This increasing volume of evidence, together with expanded databases containing identifying information from convicted felons, has created a tremendous resource for law enforcement to help solve crimes and to protect the innocent. These improvements in DNA technology have created a need to reevaluate how crime labs operate and whether state and local policies and procedures take advantage of this technology.
Although crime laboratories in Arizona are generally held in high regard, the available resources for labs throughout the state have not kept pace with the increased demand for DNA services. Additionally, state-wide improvements in DNA lab operations are difficult to effectuate because there is no mechanism in place to ensure a cohesive state-wide approach to processing DNA evidence. Some laboratories in Arizona are owned and operated by the state, while others are owned and operated by city police departments. Because the various laboratories do not share a common funding source or a common supervising agency, there is a need for better coordination of efforts among the labs and for more uniform policies regarding information sharing.
The proposed Advisory Committee should be given authority to establish and monitor performance measures and to work with lab directors to coordinate long-term planning, including equipment sharing and specialization by state and local laboratories. The Advisory Committee should also be given authority to consider and address questions or concerns from law enforcement agencies that do not have their own crime lab and from the public regarding lab operations.
Judge Ron Reinstein, a nationally-recognized retired judge with expertise in the area of forensic science, agreed to chair the Advisory Committee. Strong leadership has helped create a collaborative environment in which important issues can be addressed by individuals and agencies that may not otherwise work together in a systematic way. For example, the Advisory Committee took the lead in drafting an evidence retention statute that has been enacted by the Arizona Legislature. The statute addresses concerns about what type of biological evidence should be retained and for how long. Because the proposed legislation was drafted with input from the Advisory Committee and its broad coalition of members, the legislation was adopted without controversy.
The Advisory Committee meets quarterly in Phoenix. The Advisory Committee addresses local and national issues and most recently has coordinated efforts to resolve inconsistencies in the type of reports and terminology used by different laboratories throughout the state. Additionally, the Committee has helped address problems in state and local laboratories and has highlighted significant issues/problems that have arisen in other states to help avoid similar problems in Arizona.