Friday, June 12, 2015

CSI: The Early Years

As part of my blog re-launch, I'll be running some of my past posts. Here is one of the more popular ones:

More than 2,000 years before William Peterson or Marg Helgenberger prowled Las Vegas to collect evidence and solve crimes, the attending physician for Julius Caesar stated that of the 23 wounds on his body, only one was fatal. Fast forward to 1247 when the first textbook of forensic medicine was published in China. Nearly 400 years later the first book on document examination was published in France. The wheels of progress ground slowly until 1829 when Scotland Yard was established - a mere six years later the Yard used the first bullet comparison to catch a murderer.

After that the discoveries came fast and furiously. Here are just a few:

  • 1836 – James Marsh develops a test for arsenic in tissues
  • 1853 – First test for hemoglobin
  • 1863 – First published paper on time-since-death determinations using temperature
  • 1883 – Alphonse Bertillon invents anthropometry to identify and differentiate criminals
  • 1891 – First book published describing the use of physical evidence to solve crimes
  • 1892 – Francis Galton classifies fingerprints into the basic patterns that are still used today

Enter the computer. Thanks to technology, information can now be collected in
databases and shared across borders. One such database is IAFIS - the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System – the national fingerprint and criminal history system. It is the largest biometric database in the world, housing the fingerprints and criminal histories for more than 70 million subjects in the criminal master file, along with more than 34 million civil prints. According to the average response time for IAFIS is 27 minutes. Compare that to the weeks or months spent combing over paper records in the past and consider that in 2010 IAFIS processed over 61 million submissions!

But wait! There's more. About twenty five years ago, the use of DNA matching became an integral part of solving crimes, and in 1995 the world's first national DNA database was set up in the UK. The US followed a short time later, and thanks to this wonder of science criminals have been caught, cold cases have been solved and innocent people have been released from prison.

I'll never look at those sticky fingerprints on the kitchen counter the same way again! How about you?

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