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Title: Forensic palynology: Current status of a rarely used technique in the United States of America

item Jones, Gretchen

Submitted to: Forensic Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/16/2005
Publication Date: 2/28/2006
Citation: Bryant, V.M., Jones, G.D. 2006. Forensic palynology: Current status of a rarely used technique in the United States of America. Forensic Science. 163:183-197.

Interpretive Summary: Criminals and terrorists continue to evade detection, arrest, and prosecution despite concerted efforts by law enforcement agencies. New tools are needed to help law enforcement agencies find and prosecute criminals. Pollen analysis is a technique that can help determine where a person or object had been and if it was at, or had been moved from, the crime scene. Pollen data has helped solve crimes and has led to the arrest of criminals and terrorists in New Zealand, England, and Australia. Although pollen analysis will not solve all of the personal and property security issues in the U.S., it is an important new tool to aid law enforcement.

Technical Abstract: With such a diverse geography, topography, and vegetation, the United States is an ideal location for the use of forensic pollen studies. The bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, changed the attitude of many people about the future and about safety within the USA. Many United States federal and State agencies have taken steps to provide more effective methods of sealing the borders, requiring more detailed information from visitors and immigrants, and preventing crimes and terrorism. Nevertheless, forensic palynology is a technique few USA agencies know about and a science that even fewer are willing to utilize. Countries such as New Zealand, England, and Australia have active forensic palynological units. To our knowledge, the facilities at Texas A&M University are the only place in the United States where forensic pollen studies are currently being conducted in the USA are summarized within the text. Seven major problems prevent forensic palynology from being used as a major crime-fighting tool in the USA. First, the pollen samples and additional items (clothing, vehicles, weapons, etc.) at the time and scene of the crime must be collected and retained permanently in certain ways to prevent contamination. Second, forensic pollen studies are rarely used in the United States court system, thus there is little precedence of their use. Third, there is a lack of specialists in the USA who are trained and willing to conduct forensic pollen studies. Fourth, even among those few USA palynologists who are trained in forensics, there is a question of personal liability, the problem of being bonded, and for many, a lack of experience in testifying in court. Fifth, is the reality that there is no major university or other type of training facility that offers specific training in forensic palynology. Sixth, conducting forensic pollen studies requires adequate modern pollen and spore reference materials and slide collections and in some cases sophisticated equipment such as a scanning electron microscope. Finally, is the problem of funding. Law enforcement agencies have difficulty funding their own employees much less paying for a palynologist’s time and expertise. Rapid communication, easy and quick travel across continents, the continuing rise in the use of illicit drugs, and acts of international terrorism have each placed a premium on safety. One of the effective ways to deal with these problems is to find new and more effective ways to outwit and catch criminals and terrorists. Although forensic palynology will not solve all of the problems concerning protection of USA citizens and their possessions, it can become an important tool to effectively make us safer.