Criminals overall whiter, less diverse than US population they serve, study says

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A year-long study examining ethnic and racial diversity in forensic medicine found that the various disciplines, which often work closely with law enforcement, are also generally whiter than the U.S. population they serve.

The report, published on Thursday in International Forensic Medicine: Synergy, is one of the few that has looked at the relative representation of people of color in forensic fields today. After an early vigorous debate among the prospective authors, they quickly discovered one reason why so little had been done on the subject: there was almost no good data.

Even professional organizations related to forensic science, such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) or the National Association of Medical Examiners, which could easily survey their members and reveal demographics, do not report statistics on racial and ethnic makeup, the report noted. .

The study points out that it has been forced to focus on larger datasets for fields such as psychology or pathology, which include forensics; or census data that is not always about forensic jobs and is therefore blurred; or data from an external career and job search platform that cannot be independently verified. The study noted that it was also unable to account for an entire group of people who did not self-identify as a single race.

The findings highlight large differences between the general US population and those working in these social science or science-related fields. Overall, those who identified as Asian were overrepresented in most forensic-related jobs, except as specialized psychologists. But individuals identifying as black, Hispanic, and indigenous were grossly underrepresented across the board.

Andrea Roth, a law professor at Berkeley whose research focuses on the use of forensic medicine in criminal trials and reviewed the study at USA TODAY’s request, said efforts to roughly identify the number of African-American forensic odontologists by looking at African -American dentists, for example, probably means the actual diversity numbers are even worse. That’s because dentistry was already an established career path in the 20th century for African-Americans — and they may be less interested in assisting law enforcement investigations given the understandable historical mistrust.

The study notes that forensic medicine has historically been defined as “objective,” but that is largely a myth that has itself discouraged people of color from participating. Roth explains that this is because science in general has been used to support ideas about race.

Roth notes that some “biometric” techniques have their origins in racism or eugenics to try to identify “criminal” or “abnormal” biological attributes. The man sometimes called the father of fingerprinting, Sir Francis Galton, was known for being an unrepentant racist, among other examples, Roth added.

“This does not mean that modern forensic techniques are racist,” Roth said. “But there’s a history there that can explain some cultural trends in terms of how the discipline has developed and how it interacts with culture and society.”

Although limited in nature, the report nevertheless aims to get at the wider implications of the general lack of diversity.

Close relationship between forensics and law enforcement

Unless there’s more diversity in the field, much of the technology being developed may be without thinking about the impact on people of color, said An-Dee Yim, a forensic anthropologist and assistant professor at Truman State University in Missouri and lead author. of the article.

She noted that the DNA technology that constructs what a person might look like may not account for the natural gradient in skin color and the fact that race is often a complex, socially constructed and self-identifying attribute — not just related to skin color, since this is in the US

The study also noted forensic scientists’ close relationship with law enforcement and the disproportionate number of people of color in forensic DNA databases, “which reflects the disproportionate number of BIPOC individuals in the criminal justice system” and may further increase mistrust of the system.

“Especially because forensics is so close to policing, whatever lack of diversity contributes to what’s going on in law enforcement,” Yim said, referring to reports of systemic racism, “I would say there’s a huge parallel.”

A 2011 survey found that less than 15% of AAFS members self-identify as members of a minority group based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. A more recent study this year found that the AAFS anthropology section was at least 87 percent white, but only a third of them took surveys, and many of those who were undergraduates.

Fewer people of color in the world of forensics means they are likely to play less of a role in helping craft key privacy regulations surrounding the future of familial DNA searches, an effort that continues among that professional community and state legislatures. Roth said. It’s an area of ​​science that has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, given the greater number of black and brown individuals already in law enforcement DNA databases.

The study also found that of the 104 schools in the U.S. that the Department of Education classifies as “historically black colleges and universities,” only 13 or 12.5 percent offer forensics-related programs — and less than half offer a bachelor’s degree or certificate in forensic science. Of the 46 U.S. programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Forensic Science Educational Programs, the study noted that only two are HBCUs.

“You don’t want to have blind spots”

The study found that students in the Class of 2020 college graduates who identify as Hispanic are “well-represented” in forensic science and technology, as well as forensic psychology.

Mark Barasch, assistant professor and coordinator of the forensic science program at San Jose State University, said that while conceptual diversity is very important, it’s always best to simply ensure that workers are qualified, regardless of their background. Barush believes the ideal way to address underrepresentation is by helping educate the next generation of students from these communities and helping them get the same chances that those from overrepresented populations could have.

The authors advocated for more proactive reporting of diversity and inclusion by forensic organizations to better investigate the issue in the future. They also noted the need for more effective recruitment, retention and promotion strategies, as well as mentoring—at least once more data is available and better understood.

Max Hawke, a forensic anthropologist and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Forensic Medicine, which published the study, told USA TODAY that he believes such diversity is critical for forensic professions, since 98 percent of the workforce consists of civil servants and it makes sense that they represent the population they serve.

“You’re looking for a group of people who may disagree, but can reach agreements,” Hawke said. “You don’t want to be surrounded by people who are just like you, or tend to solve problems the same way. From an organizational point of view, that’s not good.”

He added: “You don’t want to have blind spots, and you certainly would if you had an all-white male forensic lab.”


The study finds that the field of forensic anthropology lacks diversity


More info:
An-Di Yim et al, Diversity in Forensic Science: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Representation in Different Fields of Forensic Medicine in the United States, International Forensic Medicine: Synergy (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.fsisyn.2022.100280

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Quote: Criminals tend to be whiter, less diverse than US population they serve, study says (2022, September 8) Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://phys.org/news /2022-09-forensic-scientists-whiter-diverse-population.html

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