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December 16, 2015
The Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) has introduced blind quality control
samples, as a form of proficiency testing, into the workflow of its Firearms and
Controlled Substances Sections. In September, HFSC introduced such blind controls
into the Toxicology Section. Now, analysts in three of the Center’s nine disciplines do
not know whether they are doing real casework or if they are being tested.
HFSC has also introduced blind verifications in the Firearms Section. This means that
when evidence is examined by a second analyst that individual is unaware of the
findings of the previous examiner. This will provide valuable information about HFSC’s
processes and procedures. The data collected both from the blind testing and from the
blind verification will also assist in eliminating as much bias as possible from HFSC
“We want the public, the judicial system and clients to have full confidence that we are
producing a high-quality product,” said Darrell Stein, manager of HFSC’s Firearms
Section. “These newest steps demonstrate our relentless commitment to doing so.”
The blind testing will help HFSC monitor how well its processes and procedures work
when conducting routine casework. Accreditation requires that analysts take periodic
tests designed to mimic real casework. However, in nearly every forensic laboratory in
the country, analysts know when they are being tested. Now, in three of HFSC’s
disciplines, the tests have become part of the workflow and arrive at the laboratory in
the same manner as all other evidence and casework. Staff in the Firearms, Controlled
Substances and Toxicology Sections do not know whether they are analyzing a real case
or taking a test.
“HFSC’s goal is to introduce blind proficiency testing in all disciplines,” said Dr. Peter
Stout, HFSC’s vice president and chief operations officer. “Our goal is to have blinded
control of the processes to be part of all our operations day in and day out.”
The National Commission on Forensic Science has been discussing the need for such
blind quality controls in the forensic sciences.
HFSC’s Quality Division is responsible for administering and monitoring proficiency
tests at the Center. By the end of the fiscal year in July 2016 the division will introduce
blind testing methods into two more disciplines: Biology and Latent Prints.
HFSC is an independent, nonprofit, local government corporation created by the City of
Houston to manage and oversee forensic services. HFSC took over management in
April 2014 of what had previously been the Houston Police Department’s Crime
Laboratory, Crime Scene Unit and parts of its Identification Division. HFSC currently
operates in nine disciplines.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti
Public Information Officer


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