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Science Thursday - November 29, 2012

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Posted: November 29, 2012   3:00 PM

An oversight hearing investigates crime lab misconduct in Massachusetts, canine units help fire investigators in Pennsylvania, and a new, high-tech, independent crime lab in the District of Columbia raises hopes for the future of forensic science. Here’s the news for this week:
Massachusetts’ legislators held an oversight hearing to determine if anyone supervising Annie Dookhan, a chemist at the Hinton State Crime Lab, should also be held responsible for the alleged misconduct regarding faked drug results. Legislators inquired about what supervision, if any, existed at the lab since Dookhan’s work allegedly went unchecked for years.
A Colorado police department is changing how it processes some rape kits. Formerly, only kits from stranger rapes were submitted for DNA testing, excluding an estimated 72% of kits. After a news story exposed the problem, the department agreed to submit all kits for testing, just in case the DNA profile may help solve other crimes.
Fire investigations in Pennsylvania are turning to accelerant sniffing dogs to determine if specific chemicals are present at the scene of the fire. While canine units are used to possibly detect accelerants, any suspected evidence is analyzed in the lab using more rigorous, scientific tests to verify findings.
The new $210 million state crime lab in D.C. holds promise as a state-of-the-art, science-based, independent lab that is separate from the local police department.

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