Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “forensics”

Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry (National Institute of Justice)

National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Dentistry Page:

Representative questions that can be answered by this resource:

  • What does a Forensic Dentist do?
  • What kinds of research would a Forensic Anthropologist undertake?
  • What are some techniques for fingerprint identification?
  • How do you distinguish between saw and knife wounds in bone?

This page gives basic descriptions of the professions and lists many of the grants they have awarded in the past year, which can give an idea of the types of research being done in this area.   It also has links to some fascinating guide books:

Fingerprint Sourcebook (422 pages)
Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach (248 pages)
Knife and Saw Toolmark Analysis in Bone: Manual for the Examination of Criminal Mutilation and Dismemberment (47 pages)


Fingerprint and Other Biometrics

Fingerprint and Other Biometrics – http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/fingerprints_biometrics

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • Should subjects follow along with the fingerprint collection process?
  • How often is CODIS used in criminal cases?
  • What are three features found in fingerprints?


This would be good background for spy or crime stories. Some of the items of interest:

Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) – Describes the database and tells how long it takes to produce a hit (~30 min). Prior to it’s activation in 1998, it could take weeks or months to match a print if a match existed.

Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) – From the website, “CODIS is the acronym for the “Combined DNA Index System” and is the generic term used to describe the FBI’s program of support for criminal justice DNA databases as well as the software used to run these databases. The National DNA Index System or NDIS is considered one part of CODIS, the national level, containing the DNA profiles contributed by federal, state, and local participating forensic laboratories.”

Fingerprint Identification Overview (pdf) – Brief history of fingerprinting including pictures of standard fingerprint forms.
Recording Legible Fingerprints – Procedures for taking fingerprints. Includes special circumstances like extra finger or deformed fingers.

Fingerprint and Criminal History Record Training – Extensive catalog of courses in this area. Only open to law enforcement personnel but descriptions may be helpful in providing character education and experience. Representative courses from Training and Records Testimony Team’s Catalog of Classes:

  • Course 12: Answer Hits to Wants (AHTW) – Description: This sixteen-week class is intended to provide instruction to Criminal History Record employees on the policy, criteria, critical information, and procedures for the AHTW function. Upon completion of this course, employees will be trained to competency in performing the duties of the function. (640 hours)
  • Course 16: Classifying Fingerprints Using Henry – Description: This class instructs students in the three basic fingerprint pattern types and the classification pertaining to each. They will learn to select the proper deltas, cores, type lines and other fingerprint characteristics, in order to assign an accurate and complete fingerprint classification, and to formulate the Henry Classification following the classification of each finger. (40 hours)
  • Course 99: Introduction to Friction Ridge Embryology – Description: This one-hour overview will provide information on how fingerprints form during fetal development, how the patterns arise, and the factors that influence ridge development. (1 hour)

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research Autopsy Pathology Rotation

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research Autopsy Pathology Rotation (http://home.ccr.cancer.gov/LOP/intranet/ResidentsManual/sect4autopat.asp)
UPDATE: Checked on 6/29/17, this resource was not found.  Will be checking for new links or similar resources.

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What organs need to be weighed after death in the course of an autopsy?
  • What hours can a typical autopsy resident expect to work?
  • What is the relationship between a junior resident and a senior resident?


A procedures guides to residents working in the NCI autopsy department. Mix of administrative and how-to materials including:

  • Hours and Rotation on Autopsy Service
  • Autopsy Responsibilities for Residents During Other Rotations
  • Work-up and Sign-Out
  • Instructions for Dictation of Autopsy Reports
  • Delinquent Autopsies (Autopsies Older Than 60 days)
  • Gross Examination – Outline of Basic Method, to be modified as needed for individual cases
  • Safety Considerations

Although this is not for a criminal morgue, many procedures are similar.

For more on autopsy procedures, see Everything and Everyone Dies.


FBI Capabilities (Behavioral Analysis, Fingerprinting, Hostage negotiation, etc)

FBI Capabilities (Behavioral Analysis, Fingerprinting, Hostage negotiation, etc) – https://www2.fbi.gov/aboutus/capabilities.htm

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What sort of resources can the FBI bring to bear on cases?
  • What types of crimes would they investigate and what are their highest priorities?
  • What techniques does the FBI use to produce pictures of subjects missing or dead?
  • How does the FBI interview child victims?
  • What are some factors that can contribute to the identification of a firearm?


This section links to a number of fact sheets on specific FBI capabilities and services. Many of them are forensic in nature. Each fact sheet includes a short overview of the capability discussed, usually with an example of a case solved or aided through the FBI capability. Most fact sheets also link to pages with more information. Topics discussed by this site include:

  • Child Forensic Interviews
  • Composite Sketches/Crime Scene Reconstructions
  • Disaster Victim IDs
  • DNA Analysis
  • Digital Forensics
  • Evidence Recovery
  • Firearms Identification
  • Forensic Accounting
  • Fingerprint IDs & Exams

FBI Handbook of Forensic Services (Processing Crime Scenes)

FBI Handbook of Forensic Services (Processing Crime Scenes) – https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/handbook-of-forensic-services-pdf.pdf/view

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  •  How should evidence be shipped to the FBI?
  • What evidence can bullet alloys reveal?
  • What safety precautions should be taken at a crime scene?
  • How would you undertake a preliminary survey of a crime scene?


From the website: “The Handbook of Forensic Services provides guidance and procedures for safe and efficient methods of collecting, preserving, packaging, and shipping evidence and describes the forensic examinations performed by the FBI’s Laboratory Division and Operational Technology Division.”

This 202 page handbook is divided into the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Submitting Evidence
  • Evidence Examinations
  • Crime Scene Safety
  • Crime Scene Search
  • Index

This manual contains information on photographing and sketching the crime scene, along with specifics on how to collect latent prints and more.

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