Dr. Keith Morris, WVU Ming Hsieh Distinguished Teaching Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science

CSAFE is delighted to announce that their new CSAFE 2.0 primary partner is West Virginia University. Known for cultivating a top-tier program that includes undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students, WVU’s Department of Forensic and Investigative Science is led by Professor Casper Venter, and supported by new CSAFE Co-Director and firearms expert Dr. Keith Morris and NIST OSAC associate and computational research expert Dr. Jacqueline Speir. They boast the largest graduate forensic science program in the country and faculty that conduct federally-funded, groundbreaking research.

“The deep expertise of WVU’s leadership in forensic science enhances CSAFE’s ability to leverage statistical expertise in its research mission and to create training programs with real impact for the forensic science community,” CSAFE Director Dr. Alicia Carriquiry said.

The new collaboration between CSAFE and WVU expands CSAFE’s ability to create valuable training and education programs for the forensic science community. WVU uses innovative teaching methods to incorporate experiential learning with statistical modeling in the classroom, starting at the undergraduate level.

Their interdisciplinary team of professors will now create and test new curricula, including a project designing a practical, forensics-focused statistical methods class for graduate students. WVU will pilot the program, with the goal of producing graduates prepared to read and contribute to quantitative forensic science literature. CSAFE’s commitment to and expertise in statistics makes this a perfect partnership. 

“If students want to do research and casework, they need to have a good stats foundation,” Dr. Keith Morris said. “I think that the true thing about forensic evidence is that the statistical approaches tend to be more complex because you’re dealing with quite a complex situation. Learning basic statistics is one thing –– but actually applying it in a proper manner to casework is something completely different.”

To learn more about what WVU brings to CSAFE, we were able to speak with new CSAFE leadership team member and WVU Ming Hsieh Distinguished Teaching Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science, Dr. Keith Morris.

Q: What is your background before landing as a researcher and professor at WVU?

A: After receiving my PhD in Chemistry, I worked on uranium complexes, then I joined the forensics lab for the South African Police Service. I was at the lab for thirteen years […] then I became the director of the lab system, with over 900 employees, and I did that for six years, before I moved to the US to work for WVU. I was director of the academic program at WVU for seven years, then I went fully back to doing research, and that is where I am today.

Q: In your current research with CSAFE, you’re conducting a study and creating a database. What is your study focusing on, and why is it important for forensic examiners, labs, and other researchers to have access to this database?

A: I work with several labs. In a previous study, we sent cartridge cases off to an examiner to assess the difficulty rating for comparing the cartridge cases. That gives us this idea of what the examiner thinks the difficulty is. We analyse that and then we send the same sets to many additional examiners to do the same thing, to gauge accuracy. With this current CSAFE project, we’re going to do the same thing –– send out Sensofar® 3D optical profiler files of breech face inserts and cartridge cases to as many examiners as we can to determine the accuracy and reproducibility of firearms examiners in identifying subclass characteristics on firearm evidence.

And, you know, it’s quite interesting because everyone works on these ground truth things, but the ground truth in itself is not always the appropriate answer. But if everyone has access to the same database of results, then cartridge case examination can be more precise and provide better outcomes in the field.

Q: You teach classes in addition to conducting firearm and toolmark research –– is teaching about firearms a hands-on experience?

A: I teach on the graduate level and undergraduate level –– I do firearms examination and advanced photography at the moment. We try and do it like they would do in a lab. We teach them how firearms work, about the interaction between the firearm and ammunition. That’s because firearms examiners are going to be looking at ammunition. We give students test sets and they do their microscopy.

With 3D technology, we give them software which allows them to do comparisons, and then we provide the scans of the cartridge cases, which also allows us to teach this online right now.

Q: You’re working on the training and education component of CSAFE 2.0. What will that look like?

A: We’re going to try and develop classes for graduate and undergraduate students, which are going to be focusing on forensic science applications for statistics. And, we are trying to run that with our students to see what it looks like and then try to make a model curriculum, which we could branch out to other universities and they could adopt it. That’s the main idea.

Q: What would you like to add to the CSAFE community?

A: I’d like to provide a point of view from a forensic scientist perspective. So, you know, that perspective of “How would I use this information? How would I make it? How do I make it robust from an application point of view?”

On the same token, what I’d like to get out of joining CSAFE is stronger statistical evaluation as a community and to be more collaborative. But I also ask, “How do we get this out to current practicing forensic scientists?” And that’s something else that I’m interested in –– figuring out how to do that, that’s something which is very important.

Q: Why is WVU an asset to the CSAFE community?

A: Part of the WVU thing is that we’ve got 10 or 11 faculty members. They all have practical experience. We do all sorts of things. We do actual mock crime scenes –– we have the facilities to do all of this and to conduct our own research in our own labs. One of the great things for me with firearms is I have my own shooting test range. We can do things which most other universities can’t. That gives us a lot of advantage.

All of our tenure and tenure track faculty have research funding from federal agencies. We have a very strong faculty, and we have a good student base. We just graduated our first PhD students. WVU is well positioned in that regard. And our students love testing things out –– they like to get involved.

WVU enhances both CSAFE’s leadership with the addition of Dr. Morris and Dr. Speir and CSAFE’s ability to achieve its mission. As CSAFE works to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation for the interpretation of forensic evidence while engaging forensic science professionals, it relies on its partner institutions to provide guidance and expertise.

“The forensic science community will benefit from the input of WVU’s experts, especially as we build education programs to ensure that the next generation of forensic professionals is quantitatively literate,” said Dr. Carriquiry.

WVU’s long-standing relationships with several highly regarded labs and prominent forensic examiners further indicate that CSAFE is improved by this new partnership. Dr. Morris’ current research with CSAFE seeks to create a database for the subclass characterization and analysis of firearms, which will positively impact the work of forensic examiners working with firearms.

CSAFE is excited to watch this new relationship grow and to see the results of the training and education resources created in conjunction with WVU and the effects of both Dr. Speir’s and Dr. Morris’ research.   

“We’re thrilled to be in partnership with West Virginia University,” said Dr. Carriquiry. “I’m especially excited to work with Dr. Jacqueline Speir, a highly regarded expert in computational pattern recognition, on a footwear project.”

Want to learn more about West Virginia University’s Department of Forensic and Investigative Science? Read more here. Dr. Speir maintains a website about forensic pattern recognition and microscopy here and you can read more about Dr. Morris here.

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