Looking for something on the Web, a person can get tangled fairly quickly, especially when seeking information relating to science, technology or law.
The National Clearinghouse for Science, Technology and the Law (NCSTL), a program of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), offers a free, searchable database to help law enforcement find what they're looking for at www.ncstl.org/search.
"Our mission is to support state and local law enforcement," says Carol Henderson, director of the clearinghouse. While NCSTL is located at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida, the database is not specifically for lawyers or law students, although they and others could benefit from searching the database as well.
Since NCSTL opened in 2003, more than 38,000 entries have been added to the database. "What makes us unique is the depth of information we provide," says Henderson, who has worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Justice Criminal Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C.
A treasure trove of data
Searches can be done using keywords or by doing an advanced search, choosing from more than 30 topics. After a topic has been selected, there are at least 20 different resources from which to choose.
For example, a keyword search done using "Taser policies" would bring up abstracts for resources (296 at the time this story was written) under various headings:
- 1 for Agencies
- 31 for Books, Encyclopedias and Treatises
- 1 for College and University Courses
- 2 for Commercial Applications of Science/Technology
- 92 for Conference Proceedings and Abstracts
- 11 for Continuing Education Courses; three for Dissertations
- 13 for Internet Articles
- 9 for Law Reviews and Bar Journals
- 2 for Legislation
- 54 for Newspapers, Magazines and Periodicals
- 2 for Professional Associations and Societies
- 8 for Radio/Television Shows
- 55 for Scientific Journals
- 12 Web sites.
Abstracts list title, author, date and a brief summary. By clicking "more," a link will be made to the story (if it's available freely online) or to the resource where the article may be obtained. Some resources may require a fee before the story may be read. If the physical materials are needed and not available in local libraries, they can be obtained from the clearinghouse reference collection, which can be accessed via interlibrary loan.
One resource category worth highlighting is Conference Proceedings and Abstracts. Any time an NCSTL staff member attends a conference, abstracts or proceedings are entered into the database. By including these, people can see what's going on worldwide, what the hot topics are and where the latest research is being done.
When Henderson first started attending international meetings, she wondered why no one was compiling conference information. She saw people in different parts of the world doing similar things and they didn't know it.
The whole idea behind the database and the Web site is to have better communication, she says.
The mission statement of NCSTL is "To provide comprehensive scientific, technological and legal information, which will promote justice based on sound science and technology."
The database is very comprehensive with nothing left out if it is relevant to scientific, technological and legal information.
Among the topics that have the most records in the database are:
- DNA (more than 5,000 records)
- Digital evidence
- Forensic psychology
- Questioned documents
Topics that are searched most include DNA, forensic psychology, pathology, fingerprints, digital evidence, bloodstain pattern analysis, smart cards, firearms, cybercrime, and firearms and toolmarks.
Chief William Berger of the Palm Bay (Florida) Police Department, who serves on the Clearinghouse Advisory Council, says the database is a one-stop source in the area of forensic science that is constantly expanding all the time.