FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory

The crime lab that is now referred to as the FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory officially opens in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1932.

The lab, which was chosen because it had the necessary sink, operated out of a single room and had only one full-time employee, Agent Charles Appel. Agent Appel began with a borrowed microscope and a pseudo-scientific device called a helixometer.

The helixometer (ballistics microscope) purportedly assisted investigators with gun barrel examinations, but it was actually more for show than function. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, provided the lab with very few resources and used the “cutting-edge lab” primarily as a public relations tool. But by 1938, the FBI lab added polygraph machines and started conducting controversial lie detection tests as part of its investigations.

In its early days, the FBI Crime Lab worked on about 200 pieces of evidence a year. By the 1990s, that number multiplied to approximately 200,000. Currently, the FBI Crime Lab obtains 600 new pieces of criminal evidence every day.

The origins of the FBI Bureau’s lab may be traced back to the 1920s. The latest developments in the field of scientific crime detection had captivated Hoover and other Bureau officials for years.

After he became Director in 1924,  J. Edgar Hoover encouraged the Bureau to keep an eye on the latest insights into Bureau work that science provided.

At first, this interest was focused on fingerprint identification matters, especially those dealing with the discovery of latent fingerprints, but the use of scientific analysis in other matters was becoming prominent in law enforcement circles, and Hoover wanted the Bureau to use these methods where applicable.

By 1930, the Bureau began using outside experts hired for such work on a case-by-case basis. That same year the Bureau began a criminology library for the use of its agents and support personnel,7 and it took over the collection and publication of uniform crime statistics from the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

In its new agent training program, the Bureau included expert lecturers on subjects like the use of the comparison of handwritings, the comparison of typewritings, the taking of fingerprints, the classification of fingerprints, moulage, ballistics and similar technical criminological subjects.8

Clearly, the application of science to criminal investigations was becoming a Bureau priority and went on to catch millions of killers and inspired the ID NETWORK...LOL

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