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This article,”ISO/IEC 17025 or ISO/IEC 17020 for Police Forensic Units?” was written by Terry Mills, Accreditation Manager, Inspection and Forensic Science

In the past, FQS and other accrediting bodies have used ISO/IEC 17025 to accredit police forensic units. Historically, crime scene investigations and latent print analysis were part of a traditional state or large city crime laboratory. However, forensics has been evolving so that many more police agencies are now taking over these tasks that were once traditionally in the arena of the big crime laboratories. Due to this changing trend, FQS now offers two programs: ISO/IEC 17025 for more traditional analytical testing crime laboratories and ISO/IEC 17020 for police forensic labs that perform crime scene investigations and latent print analysis.

Under the ISO standards for accreditation, there is ISO/IEC 17025 for testing and calibration laboratories and ISO/IEC 17020 for inspection laboratories. Both standards have equal weight and one is no better than the other. Each is designed to meet certain criteria and, depending on the situation, one may be more appropriate than the other. Both ISO/IEC 17025 and ISO/IEC 17020 have very similar management requirements.

ISO/IEC 17025 is designed for analytical testing laboratories. ISO/IEC 17025 is heavy in uncertainty measurements, traceability, and validation, as would be expected when using analytical scientific instrumentation used for the identification and quantitation of a material.  ISO/IEC 17025 was developed for laboratories that use equipment to test for substances or materials such as drugs, toxins, paints, metals, and other chemicals. Because ISO/IEC 17025 is the international standard for testing laboratories, FQS follows all international guidance documents related to ISO/IEC 17025. In this way, FQS feels that the world forensic and testing communities are assured that we can provide the latest acceptable best practices on these international standards.

FQS launched its ISO/IEC 17020 accreditation program for police forensic units. It is designed for units that don’t do any analytical scientific testing using instrumentations and equipment found in a traditional science lab. ISO/IEC 17020 was developed for inspection processes. Crime scene, latent prints, video analysis, photography, firearms, etc., are all inspection-type operations in which one compares against defined criteria or specifications and makes conclusions based professional judgment. For most police agencies that perform comparisons between a piece of evidence and a known specification (for example, an unknown print against a suspect print) and make a professional judgment as to whether the two items are similar or not, it seems that ISO/IEC 17020 would be a better fit. Many police forensic crime scene units in Europe are moving toward using ISO/IEC 17020. FQS is following this international trend and using the appropriate forensic amplification documents associated with the standard that are being used in the Europe.

For more information about FQS’s forensic accreditation programs, contact FQS.

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