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Forensic laboratories are an essential component of a fair and effective criminal justice system that uses unbiased scientific evidence to convict the guilty as well as exonerate the innocent leading to improved public trust.

ICITAP supports the evolution of partner laboratories around the world to deploy and leverage new technologies, including forensic databases. ICITAP’s goal is for laboratories to provide reliable and timely forensic evidence as well as ensure that the evidence is presented clearly and without bias in court testimony.

A critical component of ICITAP support is mentoring on the implementation of quality assurance programs necessary for accreditation under the applicable standards issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ICITAP believes that quality begins at the crime scene and supports the accreditation of these units as well. Accreditation supports sustainability of U.S. investments by incorporating best practices into daily procedures and institutionalizing the continuous improvement model which is the basis of the ISO standards.

ICITAP's forensic assistance programs support:

  • Training and mentoring of forensic laboratory managers
  • Forensic awareness and coordination within the criminal justice community
  • The implementation of quality assurance programs
  • The development and adoption of policies and procedures, and technical and training manuals
  • Technical training in all the forensic disciplines

Forensic techniques are used in all types of criminal investigations including terrorism, homicides and sexual assaults, as well as organized crimes such as drug trafficking and cybercrime. Examples of forensic disciplines in which ICITAP provides technical assistance and training include:

  • Ballistics
  • Chemistry
  • Crime Scene
  • Digital Evidence
  • DNA
  • Fingerprints
  • Forensic nursing
  • Pathology
  • Physical anthropology
  • Questioned documents
  • Toxicology


Below are a few examples of ICITAP's work around the globe in helping investigators use forensic evidence to solve crimes and bring criminals to justice:

International Accreditation of State Laboratories in Mexico

Since 2009, ICITAP has been a key contributor to the U.S. Mérida Initiative—a partnership between the United States and Mexico, which was created to combat organized crime and associated violence while advancing respect for human rights and the rule of law. ICITAP’s current capacity building efforts are targeted to provide critical assistance to Mexico’s forensic community to help thwart the activities of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs). ICITAP works closely with and is funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

ICITAP’s assistance to Mexican forensic laboratories supports Mexico’s transition to an adversarial trial system, where forensic science plays a critical role in the successful prosecution of violent crimes. To meet the challenges presented in the new system, ICITAP is assisting both federal and state laboratories meet the ISO accreditation standards. While originally working at the federal level, the program scope was expanded to include assistance to laboratories in 31 Mexican states and Mexico City, incorporating seven core disciplines: ballistics, DNA, fingerprints, chemistry/toxicology, questioned documents, crime scene investigation, and forensic medicine. This scope increase targeted a universe of over 290 state and federal laboratory sections, as well as over 100 morgues. As of August 2020, 82 forensic sections have been accredited under ISO standards at the federal level and in fourteen Mexican states.

While accreditation supports the reliability of physical evidence, law enforcement witnesses must be able to successfully communicate and defend results in a court of law. ICITAP expanded an existing Expert Witness Course into a Courtroom Competency Training program to train prosecutors, investigators, analysts, as well as forensic experts, to support the effective presentation of evidence at trial by facilitating pre-trial communication and courtroom presentation ‘teamwork’. The training combines classroom instruction with a moot court to provide prosecutors, investigators, analysts, and experts with practice in pre-trial preparation and presenting evidence in court.

ICITAP also supports the development of a forensic community in Mexico by partnering with INL to facilitate the annual International Forensic Science Symposium in Mexico City. This forum for reporting advances and international standards in Forensic Science and Quality Assurance practice continues to provide a venue where forensic scientists may update their knowledge by building a self-sustaining international web of Spanish-speaking forensic scientists. ICITAP also hosted the first international delivery of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors’ (ASCLD) Leadership Academy for laboratory managers, providing them with tools needed to lead an organizational transformation required for ISO accreditation. During this event, quality assurance managers from the ICITAP-assisted laboratories joined to form the Mexican Committee for Forensic Quality (COMCAF), uniting quality managers from labs all over Mexico to address common challenges and share solutions.

Forensic Management and Process Improvement in Costa Rica

ICITAP has supported the accreditation of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ) laboratory in Costa Rica in several forensic disciplines improving the reliability of evidence presented in criminal trials. Because improving quality often comes at the expense of efficiency, ICITAP also works to improve timeliness of analysis. Timeliness of forensic examinations results in investigative leads provided as early in investigations when they are most impactful. To this end, ICITAP provides training in laboratory management including Lean Six Sigma, a team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance by eliminating inefficiencies from a process while keeping quality.

The introduction of Lean Six Sigma approach in Costa Rica resulted in the laboratory’s ability to reduce the backlog of cases not analyzed after three months in the laboratory by 97%. With these improvements in hand, Costa Rica was awarded the FORESIGHT Maximus Award in recognition of operating at 90% peak efficiency when compared to other participating laboratories at the 2019 ASCLD meeting. 

Supporting Terrorism Investigations through Forensic Science in Somalia

ICITAP, in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is working with the Somali Police Force (SPF) to establish the SPF Forensic Science Laboratory and a cadre of forensic experts. ICITAP trains and mentors Somali experts on establishing the organizational structure of the laboratory, laboratory management practices, equipment monitoring and maintenance, evidence management and triage, latent fingerprint development, explosive composition chemistry, ballistics, digital evidence, and other forensic disciplines which support terrorism investigations. ICITAP works with the laboratory staff to establish an overall quality assurance system that serves as the framework to eventually meet international accreditation standards. Additionally, ICITAP facilitates the training of crime scene personnel by laboratory staff.

Strengthening Pre-Accord Human Rights Investigations in Colombia

Since the mid- twentieth century, Colombia has suffered internal conflicts between paramilitary and official armed forces. Cases of forced disappearances include conflicts of paramilitary groups, guerrillas, drug traffickers, organized crime, and the State. Most are presumed dead, though their bodies remain unrecovered.

In 2005, Colombia approved the Justice and Peace Law, which contained a transitional justice component designed to demobilize paramilitary and guerrilla groups and to facilitate trial, conviction and sentencing of paramilitary leaders. In the case of the disappeared, this requires the State to recover, identify, and return victim remains to surviving family members, furnish counseling services, provide proper burial, and provide transparency in the investigation and judicial proceedings around the case.

ICITAP works with the Colombian Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to enhance the technical, scientific, and investigative capacities of AGO investigators, prosecutors, and forensic experts to strengthen their collective effectiveness in the investigation, exhumation, and identification of human remains.

The forensic enhancement of this project focuses on exhumation, anthropology, odontology, photography, and DNA. ICITAP trains field exhumation teams on operational planning, locating, processing, and cataloging of gravesites. ICITAP provides training and mentoring to anthropologists on osteology and osteometry, biological variability, individualized characteristics and abnormalities, bone trauma, and assists with validations and the development of contemporary protocols. Assistance is also provided to the genetics laboratory through training investigators on proper reference sample collection techniques and implementing Next Generation Sequencing in multiple laboratories to streamline processing.

Updated August 11, 2023