State handwriting analysis unit quietly shuttered

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The troubled state unit that analyzed handwriting in criminal cases quietly shut down more than a year ago after police discovered two of its examiners committed a serious error in a suspected murder-for-hire case.
   
The Oregon State Police didn't formally announce the closure in December 2012.
   
The unit's two handwriting analysts, who handled about 80 cases a year, were put on paid leave for nine months, and the unit was then quietly shuttered and the workers laid off, The Oregonian reported.
   
The newspaper filed an open-records request and found allegations of bias, sloppy work and dishonesty.
   
State police officials identified 45 cases that required outside reviews by qualified handwriting examiners.
   
Lt. Gregg Hastings, a state police spokesman, says it appeared no criminal cases were significantly altered or harmed by the findings.
   
Experts also say handwriting examination had lost some of its relevancy as technology improved.
   
Oregon State Police weren't the first to drop as it a forensic discipline, said Randy Wampler, who used to head the Forensic Services Division.
   
"The profession is definitely fading," he said. "There's much less demand for the service."
   
The department now sends handwriting analyses to the Washington State Patrol's forensics laboratory and, in some cases, FBI examiners.
   
These days, fewer people sign checks or write other documents by hand. Previously, papers such as wills, suicide notes and bank robbery demands kept handwriting examiners busy. But digital technology, including online banking and easy-to-use word processing programs, cut their workloads.
   
Closing the Questioned Documents Unit - the handwriting group's formal name - saves Oregon State Police money, Hastings said. But district attorneys across the state will now have to pay for most of the document examinations needed by their offices.