Scientific Investigation Section



The Honolulu Police Department's Scientific Investigation Section is the only full-service forensic laboratory in Hawaii and is accredited in the areas of Biology, Controlled Substances, Firearms/Toolmarks, Trace Evidence, and Forensic Documents through the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board/FQS.


Forensic science (often shortened to forensics) is the process of using science to resolve legal issues. This is done by applying many different fields of science, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, engineering, genetics, medicine, pathology, voice analysis, psychiatry, and toxicology to matters in which the law has become involved. 


The related term criminalistics refers more specifically to the scientific collection, evaluation, and analysis of physical evidence in criminal investigations.  This includes the analysis of many kinds of materials, including blood, fibers, bullets, drugs, documents, and fingerprints.  Many law enforcement agencies operate crime laboratories that perform scientific evaluation and analysis of evidence.  At the Honolulu Police Department the Scientific Investigation Section provides these services. 


Scientific Investigation Section

Scientific Investigation Section

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Firearms/Toolmarks Unit

Crime Scene Unit

Crime Scene Unit

Crime Scene Unit - Luminol Testing

Crime Scene Unit - Luminol Testing

Crime Scene Unit - Latent Print Processing

Crime Scene Unit - Latent Print Processing

Crime Scene Unit - Evidence Photography

Crime Scene Unit - Evidence Photography

Crime Scene Unit - Technology Validation

Crime Scene Unit - Technology Validation

Forensic Biology (Serology and DNA) Unit

Forensic Biology (Serology and DNA) Unit

Forensic Biology -Processing Stains for DNA Typing

Forensic Biology -Processing Stains for DNA Typing

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

Drug Analysis Unit

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Forensic science not only allows for us to learn more and explore our world in new and fascinating ways, it helps us to make the world we live in a much safer place.

Forensic Firearm and Toolmark identification is a comparative discipline of forensic science dealing with firearms, ammunition, tools, and related evidence. The common type of evidence examined by the Unit include handguns, long guns, magazines, fired cartridge cases, bullets and bullet fragments, shot shells, shot wads/cups and pellets. The primary areas of analysis provided by this unit include firearm function testing, microscopic comparisons, distance determination testing, and serial number restoration.

Recently, the field of Forensics has experienced a surge of public interest although most of the forensic science principles the field was founded upon are not new. This holds especially true for forensic firearms identification. Although firearms identification has made remarkable technological advances, many of the same techniques and instrumentation which were first implemented over 50 years ago are still in use today.

The Firearms/Toolmarks Unit maintains accreditation through the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board/FQS.

The comparison microscope or macroscope is the primary tool of every forensic firearms examiner and its application has changed little since it was adopted in 1925 by Philip O. Gravelle and Calvin H. Goddard of the then New York Bureau of Forensic Ballistics. This instrument is considered the most significant contribution to this field since without it, firearms identification would not be as widely practiced as it is today. The comparison microscope is composed of two individual microscopes connected by an optical bridge. This allows the examiner to view two objects simultaneously with one-half of the field of view magnified by one microscope while the other half is magnified by the second microscope. As a result of this development, identification of fired bullets and cartridge cases became as conclusive as fingerprints.

Identification of fired ammunition to a specific firearm is made possible by distinguishing marks left by the gun on the surface of both the bullet and the cartridge case. These markings fall into two categories: class characteristics and individual characteristics. Class characteristics include general features such as the number of lands and grooves and their width, direction of twist, and bullet diameter. Since many firearms are manufactured to the same specifications, the variation of these characteristics will be nominal from multiple guns of the same make and model. However, the individual characteristics imparted to a bullet or cartridge case are unique for every firearm, and make it possible for an examiner to positively identify fired ammunition as coming from a specific gun.

Individual characteristics can be further classified into impressed or striated marks. Impressed marks are made by a hard surface imprinting its shape into a softer material. These marks include those made by a hammer striking another piece of metal, or a screwdriver driven straight down onto another surface. Striated marks are made when a hard surface scrapes against a softer surface, such as pry marks made by a crowbar or when the surface of the bullet is forced along the rifling inside a gun barrel. These marks can be present on cartridge cases, bullets, and surfaces that had been in contact with a tool. Comparison of the marks on the evidence with those on the test material can result in an "identification", in which the impressed or striated marks on the two objects are synchronized and appear to form a single image which is "aligned and appear to form a continuous image".

The Crime Scene Unit (CSU) is the forensic field response team that works in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies to assist in the investigation of major crimes to include, but not limited to homicide, aggravated assault, robbery and sex crimes. The major function of the CSU is to thoroughly document the crime scene in order to identify, protect and collect all evidence which may be forensically related to a victim or suspect and aid in providing investigative leads. The Evidence Specialists making up the CSU teams maintain an impartial and neutral approach to the evidence collection process and crime scene investigation, regardless of the final outcome of the investigation.

In the wide variety of incidents the Crime Scene Unit respond to the Evidence Specialists must evaluate the minute details of a crime scene and determine what types of processing are appropriate.

Processing a scene can include the use of digital photography, the recovery of latent fingerprints, the collection of DNA or serological evidence, and the collection of footwear, tool, or tire impressions.

Proper evidence collection, documentation, preservation, packaging and analysis are an integral part in forensic analysis. If the crime scene evidence is not collected and documented properly, the forensic scientist will have a difficult time evaluating the evidence which may lead to the unsuccessful prosecution of cases.

The Crime Scene Unit's staff consists of trained professionals in the field of forensics, inclusive of evidence collection, photography, and latent print processing. CSU personnel are members of the International Association for Identification (IAI), this professional association provides forensic training to keep their members up-to-date on new technology in the forensic field.

The Crime Scene Unit (CSU) is located in the Alapai Station of the Honolulu Police Department and provides investigative services 24 hours per day/365 days per year. The CSU also assists other regional law enforcement agencies with evidence processing, training and crime scene response.

The Forensic Biology Unit examines physical evidence to locate, identify, and perform Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) analysis on a range of biological material. The Unit conducts analysis to assist law enforcement investigating crimes such as homicide and sex crime cases, also robberies, assaults, and a variety of property crimes.

DNA provides a genetic fingerprint that is unique to all individuals with the exception of identical twins and is found in nearly every cell in the body such as skin cells, blood, semen, hair, and saliva. The Criminalists in the Forensic Biology Unit conducts DNA analyses on relevant crime scene evidence and criminal paternity evidence. The testing process consists of DNA isolation/purification, estimating the amount of human DNA in the samples, and conducting PCR (polymerase chain reaction) based amplification of the samples to generate DNA profiles from the items that will be used for comparison purposes.

Through the utilization of a software database called "CODIS" (COmbined DNA Index System) containing hundreds of DNA profiles from casework evidence, the Unit has the ability to search millions of DNA profiles from convicted offenders and crime scene DNA profiles from all fifty states.

Comparisons are made to individuals thought to be associated with the crime in question (victims, suspects, or witnesses) or alternatively the Combined DNA Index Systems (CODIS) databases can be queried for potential investigative leads. Currently there are over 10 million individuals and well over four hundred thousand casework samples available for comparison in the CODIS database.

The goal of the Forensic Biology Unit is to offer the highest quality forensic DNA testing program possible to the victims of criminal activity. This is accomplished through a collaborative effort with law enforcement and the judicial system by conducting analysis on probative evidence and testifying to the DNA results in court. In order to assure compliance with national DNA testing standards, the Forensic Biology Unit maintains accreditation through the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board/FQS and the FBI National Forensic DNA Standards.

Forensic scientists routinely analyze unknown powders, liquids and pills to determine whether controlled substances are present. There are two categories of forensic tests used to analyze drugs and other unknown substances: Presumptive tests (such as color tests) give only an indication of which type of substance is present-but they cannot specifically identify the substance. Confirmatory tests (such as gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) are more specific and can determine the precise identity of the substance.

Forensic scientists perform color tests by mixing an unknown substance with a chemical reagent and observing if a color change occurs. The resultant color change help determine what type of drug is present.

Each type of drug has an individual crystal pattern when seen under a polarized light microscope. Scientists use microcrystalline tests to aid in determining the type of drug that may be present in a sample.

Other drug tests include ultraviolet spectrophotometry, which analyzes the way a substance reacts to ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light. A spectrophotometer emits UV and IR rays, and then measures how the sample reflects or absorbs these rays to give a general idea of what type of substance is present.

Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry isolates the drug from any mixing agents or other substances that might be combined with it. Injecting a sample into the gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer causes components of the sample to move through the gas chromatograph column at different speeds based on their unique affinity for the column. After separation in the column, the components funnel into a mass spectrometer, where an electron beam hits it and causes it to break apart. How the component breaks apart in the mass spectrometer determines what type of drug is present.




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