READING, Pa. — During a recent ceremony to announce that the Berks County Forensic Services Unit had achieved international accreditation in the field of forensic inspection from the American National Standards Institute-American Society for Quality National Accreditation Board, or ANSI-ASQ, Katie Amaral was front and center on the stage in plain clothes with the uniformed unit members. That’s because she had an integral role in helping the crime lab to achieve this prestigious certification.
Amaral is an associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Berks who teaches two forensics courses: Introduction to Forensic Sciences, and Essential Practices of Forensic Science, the only face-to-face session of this course offered throughout the University. She also teaches the college’s forensics summer camp for high school students. To enhance the field experience components of her courses and camp, she invited Sgt. Robert Johnson, head of the Forensic Services Unit, to be a guest speaker.
Johnson and Amaral discussed the Forensic Services Unit’s goal to become accredited by ANSI-ASQ, and Amaral volunteered to assist with the process, offering her scientific expertise. She consulted with the unit on the stringent documentation standards required to receive accreditation, helping them to develop manuals for various procedures such as evidence processing and advising on standard operating procedures, such as the need for an acid cabinet and a safety shower.
“We greatly appreciate the help of someone so well educated and proficient in the scientific aspects of what we needed for accreditation,” comments Johnson. “We give credit to Katie Amaral and to Penn State Berks for offering that kind of community service.”
The scope of the accreditation includes the forensic disciplines of crime scene analysis, computer forensics and fingerprint processing and comparison. The unit’s accreditation will be reviewed annually and Amaral will continue to consult with the unit to help them to maintain their accreditation, acting as a “defacto quality manager,” monitoring their quality system and making sure they are following procedures.
The consulting relationship also had benefits for Amaral and her students. She stated that she learned a lot through the process and she can share that knowledge with her students, including how to analyze evidence, how to compare fingerprints, and how to accurately create a blood splatter for student analysis. She will also be able to weave information from the accreditation process into her Essential Practices of Forensic Science course, giving students a broader perspective on what is required in the field. During the process, Amaral worked with two Penn State Berks graduates who were completing internships at the Forensic Services Unit: Chastity Paredes-Rodriquez ’16 and Ellie McKinstry ’15.
Only two other crime labs in Pennsylvania, including those operated by the Philadelphia Police Department and the State Police, have been awarded this prestigious accreditation, according to Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams.