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Strengthening Our Nation's Crime Laboratories

Gerald LaPorte; Brady Mills; Mary Lentschke; Kim Murga; Matthew Gamette; Timothy Kupferschmid

As technology improves, demand for analysis of DNA and other forensic evidence to help solve crimes grows. This video describes some of the challenges crime laboratories face in meeting this demand and how National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funding has strengthened crime labs and encouraged innovation in forensic techniques.

Gerald LaPorte: The DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction Program designed to provide immediate funding to laboratories, to conduct DNA testing, and to build their capacity.

Brady Mills: Technology has changed, which has allowed us to do a lot of more cases, been more successful, because we have CODIS, and we're proactive with the database now. The problem is, is as we get better and are able to do more, we get asked to do more. Sometimes that funding, and sometimes those other things that go along with it don't really keep up.

Mary Lentschke.: The demands are continuing to grow. I think the communities are demanding that there be more evidence when we do arrest somebody for a crime, and we do prosecute. They want to see that evidence. For that to be processed, and for it to be processed in a timely manner, you're going to have to build a capacity of the crime labs.

Gerald LaPorte: One of the things that we do know, without a doubt, is that the demand for DNA testing continues to increase. The value of the evidence is invaluable. As it gets better, people want more of it.

Kim Murga: We've been obtaining DNA backlog reduction funds from the National Institute of Justice, for years. Those programs have been instrumental in allowing us to close the gap on our backlog. We've been successful in entering a number of DNA profiles that are obtained, believed to be from suspects, from property crimes into CODIS, and obtaining CODIS hits. I do believe that about 75 percent of our CODIS hits that we obtain at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Forensic Lab do come from property crimes.

Brady Mills: Coverdale is a very important funding source for training, for capacity enhancement, and toxicology, and digital multimedia evidence. Then, it's also a great source that we use for overtime, to be able to increase our cases out the door.

Matthew Gamette: I think one of the great advantages to us in having the federal funding come through NIJ, is that we're able to utilize that money as we need it in the laboratory. Those funds have helped enormously in our screening processes, and other things that we've looked at. The equipment that comes from NIJ funding, through the capacity building, backlog reduction, type funds, those all go to DNA instrumentation that we use in the laboratory to benefit these cases going quicker, to decreasing our backlogs, and increasing our efficiency in the laboratory.

Kim Murga: Most recently in our biology DNA detail with utilization of grant funds, we have purchased software called, Probabilistic Geno-Typing, that's very sophisticated, that allows us to take very complex DNA mixtures, and de-convolute, or break down the different origins of contributors that may be present in that source. This is the next big wave in the forensic arena.

Timothy Kupferschmid: One of the most interesting projects we've done is on proteins. We're able now to look at a body fluid, determine if it's saliva, if it's semen, if it's a venous blood. Even if it's menstrual blood, we can tell now what is the origin of that body fluid. We hope to get this new test online, and casework, in the coming years. Hopefully that will revolutionize how we're doing forensic science, not only from the DNA aspect, but now from the protein aspect. We're using NIJ money to help. The R&D, we've implemented and researched a lot of novel techniques from pheno-type testing, hair color, eye color, from DNA. We're also looking at protein markers to try to do more scientifically advanced serology, body fluid identification. We're very, very fortunate to have received a number of research, development, and backlog reduction grants from NIJ.

Mary Lentschke: The strength of those grants is just critical to agencies across this country, because we don't have the funding to process. You have to keep in mind, the crime lab is just not processing the sexual assault kits, it's all that other crimes. It's the homicides. It's the robberies. It's the burglaries. The demands on crime labs across this country are growing. We have to continue to build that. That's where I think a lot of funding, and where we could probably use a lot more funding for the crime labs, to build capacity.

Kim Murga: The technology just keeps advancing so much. You really have to keep pace. When you have more sensitive technologies, you have faster, you have more efficient extraction methodologies. It's all about finding these answers to convicting the guilty, and exonerate the innocent.

Date Created: August 30, 2019