Innovation 25 years in the making

In 1995, the world was captivated by the “trial of the century.” The O.J. Simpson murder trial put the spotlight on DNA, forensic science and the American criminal justice system to the more than 100 million global TV viewers. A few short weeks after the not guilty verdict was handed down, the American Society of Crime Lab Directors founded the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

On October 25, 1995, with $1,500 and a mission to do good things for the forensic science community, NFSTC began to assist crime laboratories across the country. From auditing every one of the DNA laboratories to developing training for crime scene investigators – the work was tireless and continuously fueled by the growing demand in the industry.

“When we were founded, there wasn’t rapid DNA or a chemical detection instrument you could take in the field to test for drugs or explosives. And let’s not forget the field of digital forensics wasn’t even a consideration,” Kevin Lothridge, executive director of NFSTC, says.

For 22 years, NFSTC operated as a standalone not-for-profit serving not only civilian law enforcement agencies, but military and international agencies as well. In 2018, NFSTC became NFSTC@FIU and a founding partner of the FIU preeminent program the Global Forensic and Justice Center.

“When we looked at where we wanted and needed to be in the next 25 years of existence, it was evident joining FIU was going to be paramount to our success,” Lothridge adds. “It’s been clear with our successful research projects, international training efforts and expansion of the Annual Forensic Science Symposium we made the right decision.”

The GJFC preeminent program is now one of the University’s highest funded departments through grants and contracts. In just less than three years, the GFJC has been awarded more than $19 million in contract and grant funding. 

As the world’s most comprehensive criminal justice research center, the GFJC focuses on cross-cutting innovation bringing in areas outside the traditional laboratory that still have a substantial impact on forensic science.

University-wide partnerships including the Institute of Environment, the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the Florida Center for Capital Representation, Legal Psychology, Cybersecurity@FIU have created innovative solutions to real world problems in the forensic science and criminal justice systems. These solutions do not stay in the silo of the research facilities, but are bridged into the community and industry for immediate implementation.

These solutions include:

  • RUSANE: With a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Services launched the Advanced Nursing Education Regionally Underserved Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (RUSANE) program. 
  • Memory Science in COVID19 Contact Tracing: Using the science of memory recall studied for eyewitness testimony, FIU legal psychology researchers developed CogTracer, a DIY contact tracing method that is free and open to the public. 
  • Anti-human trafficking: The GFJC partnered with the FIU Center for Women and Gender Studies to propose training solutions for international agencies in the effort to halt human trafficking practices and provide multidisciplinary training approach.

“We have a unique opportunity here at FIU to connect the researcher with the end user. This has allowed us to improve our test and evaluation in our research laboratories. We can use the criminal justice research for training for officers of the court,” explains Lothridge. “As part of the GFJC, we have been able to expand our expertise because we have immediate access to hundreds of research-based professors and post-docs. All the work we’ve done for the past 25 years is just a drop in the bucket to what we’re able to accomplish now.”

As NFSTC@FIU starts the path to the next 25 years, there are expected changes in technology, training needs, and global events. But what will not change is the mission to always “do good things” and unite the sciences for justice.