Skip to content

Building Relationships with the Forensic Science Practitioner Community- CSAFE Consults on Los Angeles Handwriting Study

A central priority of CSAFE is cultivating relationships with key organizations in the forensic science community to evaluate current practices and to aid in the understanding of processing evidence. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine are doing just that as they consult on a study of handwriting complexity with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

LAPD and LASD handwriting investigators developed a study to investigate the complexity of handwriting signatures, the characteristics of signatures associated with complexity judgements, and the relationship of signature complexity to examiner performance. CSAFE Co-Director Hal Stern said, “LAPD and LASD knew what questions they wanted to ask but did not have a great deal of experience in the research process. CSAFE researcher Bill Thompson and I are able to provide advice on study design and statistical methods.”

Stern believes that the feedback the CSAFE team has provided on data collection procedures and analysis methods has benefited the LAPD and LASD, and that the study is relevant to the CSAFE mission. “They are performing a study that will help us understand how handwriting examiners perform in their tasks as a function of the complexity of the writing,” he said. “This is an example of the kind of study that PCAST has been asking for in the various disciplines.  think it’s a very important study and I’m happy and excited to be a part of it.”

How a Foundation of Collaboration Builds Our Success

Stern said that there are multiple ways that partnering with practitioners advances the CSAFE mission. For example, “Through this collaboration we are able to get access to data that will benefit CSAFE projects that are aiming to develop “next generation” methods for examiners,” he said.

In addition, Stern highlights that collaboration with practitioners benefits all parties. “Interactions with practitioners serve a two-way educational purpose: we learn about how practitioners work and practitioners learn a bit more about how statisticians and scientists think about their work,” he said.

In this study, researchers collected a set of 123 signature pages and analyzed a large number of characteristics of the signing such as how fast the pen was moving or how much pressure was applied. Researchers examined subjective assessments of complexity by sharing the pages with five different examiners who were asked to judge whether the signature was complex, which was defined as being easy or hard to simulate. Researchers are now obtaining simulated signatures and having examiners evaluate questioned signatures (signatures whose status is unknown to the examiner) to determine if the questioned signature was written by a given known writer.

“Most people believe that if the signature is very complex and hard to copy that examiner’s will do a very good job at determining whether the questioned signature is a simulation or a genuine signature.”  The CSAFE team is working with the LAPD and LASD to design the study and to analyze the results to determine how often examiners get it right based on the level of complexity of the signature.

Additionally, CSAFE handwriting research has expanded to include collaborations of UCI researchers with those at partner institution Iowa State University (ISU). The ISU team led by CSAFE Director Alicia Carriquiry is investigating handwriting and hand printing, while Stern and his colleagues at UCI are working on signatures.

“The two projects are complementary in that they are tackling different aspects of the document examiner’s job,” Stern said.

The ISU and UCI research teams emphasize that collaboration is central to the success of CSAFE. “One of the ways that the multi-institution approach helps is that you have people looking at different parts of a problem and informing each other of new solutions,” Stern said.

ISU graduate student researcher Amy Crawford agrees, stating that “The ability to exercise expertise and diverse skill sets from collaborators at all of our partner institutions is especially important due to the stakes involved in our work, namely, the fair administration of justice.”

We Want to Collaborate With Your Team

CSAFE welcomes the opportunity to work in partnership with forensic science researchers and practitioners who are also investigating the key CSAFE research areas of human factors, pattern evidence and digital evidence. If your forensic science research is outside these disciplines, we still may consider collaboration opportunities. Our team can provide consultation to your own research project, or you can bring a question to CSAFE for our researchers to investigate. Please contact us if you would like to work together towards finding solutions to forensic science and criminal justice research questions.