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Focus Areas

Forensic Surveys

Conducting large-scale surveys to inform federal and state agencies on the state and direction of the forensics workforce

RTI has had extensive experience with large-scale forensic survey collections since 1998, including 10 separate survey administrations for the National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) program. We conduct surveys of forensic communities, including medical examiners, coroners, toxicology laboratories, and crime laboratories, on a variety of topics, such as procedures, practices, policies, attitudes, and experiences of forensic units and their employees. Through these surveys and associated technical reports, we provide critical information to federal and state agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Department of Justice (DOJ), on the state and direction of forensic work and study within the United States.

Project Highlights

National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) Survey Series

The DEA and RTI began working together on the NFLIS program in 1998. Under RTI’s management, NFLIS matured into one of DEA’s shining success stories: 98% of the nation’s forensic laboratories in the United States voluntarily participate in NFLIS-Drug, which serves as a mission critical, high-performing drug surveillance program for DEA. We conducted numerous surveys to support all three components of the program: the drug chemistry sections within crime laboratories (NFLIS-Drug), the private and public toxicology laboratories (NFLIS-Tox), and the medical examiner and coroner offices (NFLIS-MEC). RTI has administered 10 NFLIS census surveys for the DEA and 3 for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, constituting over 6,000 surveys accommodating paper, web, and telephone response. These surveys have high response rates (e.g., 81% for the 2018 CMEC; 94% for the 2019 NFLIS Drug survey), low item nonresponse, and high data quality. NFLIS census data across all three program components is used to periodically update DEA’s entity profiles, help identify recruitment targets, and provide insights into an entity’s “readiness” for participation (e.g., level of automation).

Census of Medical Examiner and Coroner Offices (CMEC)

Medical examiners and coroners are a valuable and unique source of information for a wide variety of criminal justice and public health-related issues, providing critical information on homicides, drug deaths, suicides, workplace deaths, infectious diseases, missing person cases, and other important societal problems. Yet data on medical examiner and coroner offices is limited, varies widely in form and content, and is often difficult to obtain. RTI conducted the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ (BJS) 2018 Census of Medical Examiner and Coroner Offices (CMEC), which focused on the Medicolegal Death Investigation (MDI) system in the United States. The goals of the 2018 CMEC were to understand the structures, expenditures, workloads, resource needs, and policies of the 2,100+ medical examiner and coroner offices across the United States and their coordination with other stakeholders in the law enforcement and criminal justice communities. The survey captured emerging issues relevant to MECs in 2018 and showed changes over time for variables common across both the 2004 and 2018 surveys. Our experience conducting this important survey resulted in 31 concrete recommendations to inform future CMEC data collection efforts. In concert with BJS, RTI will field the 2023 CMEC in 2024.

Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories (CPFFCL)

About 500 publicly funded forensic crime laboratories operate nationwide. Their services are critical to the criminal justice process, yet they continually face important and emerging issues that can strain their operations and effectiveness, such as mounting workloads, the need for an adequate and qualified workforce, public perception of forensic evidence’s value to justice outcomes, and laboratory performance. RTI conducted the BJS-funded 2020 Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories (CPFFCL) to better understand the state of crime laboratories and help them streamline their processes, meet personnel needs, equip their laboratories, decrease their backlogs, and benefit crime investigations. The 2020 CPFFCL provided key national data about the services offered by forensic crime laboratories and the public resources committed to completing their work. Insights drawn from the CPFFCL help ensure the equitable distribution of public funds; document changes and consistencies; inform planning, development, and improvement; and characterize laboratories and their jurisdictions. Given the monumental importance of the CPFFCL to the forensics field and to our country’s understanding of their needs, our team was honored to conduct this important work for BJS and will be working with BJS to administer the next CPFFCL collection.