Directors Summary

Director's Summary

Daniel E. Katz

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The lives of the Forensic Sciences Division (FSD) staff are filled with pressures.  There are time pressures such as how quickly you can respond to a crime scene, how soon you can provide investigators with that crucial lead, and whether you can complete a case in time to meet the trial date.  There are scientific pressures to ensure that the analysis, data interpretation, and reporting is done to the highest level of scientific accuracy.  There are the pressures associated with providing testimony in an adversarial court system in which you are obligated to remain impartial and fair.  There are the pressures of balancing all of this with personal lives that can be complicated, stressful, and demanding in their own right.  On top of all that, FSD found itself facing the additional pressure of having to do more with less in 2016.

 

FSD has an allocated strength count of 102 employees.  The average vacancy rate in 2016 was 20% with as many as 26 total vacancies at one time.  This meant that several units had to operate with significantly less manpower.  The Central Receiving Unit found itself in such a situation; however, due to the organization and work ethic of the Central Receiving Unit, along with the assistance of a dedicated light-duty Trooper temporarily assigned to the unit, they were able to receive even more cases than they did in 2015 when they had a full staff. 

 

In addition to the lack of staffing, resources were also lacking for other reasons.  For instance, there was a federal mandate in which the FBI changed the number of CODIS core loci from 13 to 20 and required that all CODIS participating laboratories be online with testing the new 20 core loci by the end of 2016.  In short, the Biology Section had to purchase new reagents and equipment, perform validation studies on the new testing platform, create new standard operating procedures based on the validation results, and finally train the entire Biology staff on how to competently use the new testing platform as well as interpret the new data.  Through excellent planning and preparation, the Biology Section was able to achieve this huge task ahead of schedule and with minimal impact on the DNA casework and DNA database operations. 

 

Another area in which FSD was hit in 2016, was the loss of experience and leadership resulting from the retirements of long time staff.  The Latent Prints and Impressions Unit was hit particularly hard as 3 of its 8 members retired, including the manager, the supervisor, and a senior level forensic scientist.  While the loss of these individuals definitely impacts the output of casework from the unit, perhaps of even more concern is the loss of a combined 53 years of latent print experience.  There was a need for the remaining staff to prove both to themselves and to their customers that they are capable and ready to lead their unit into the future.  They did so emphatically when all of them successfully became Certified Latent Print Examiners through the International Association for Identification. 

 

These are just a few examples of how FSD found ways of continuing to succeed despite limited resources, but the reality is that doing more with less is not a long term solution.  During such times when we find there are simply not enough people, time, or money available to continue as we always have, we must take the opportunity to reevaluate our current practices. 

 

Such an opportunity presented itself when the vacancy rate in the Crime Scene Section reached as high as 47% during 2016.  Despite the incredible lengths to which the section went to provide the State of Maryland with crime scene response coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year as it always had, the increased on-call schedules and increased coverage areas simply were not sustainable.  As a result, there was a need to implement changes to the way we operate.  The first change involved deciding that we should not respond to every customer request for a crime scene response, but rather take charge of dictating to which crime scenes we respond based on the role and resources of our agency.  This involved implementing a new requirement that all requests be made through a Crime Scene Technician Supervisor rather than the customer directly contacting the Crime Scene Technicians.  Furthermore, a decision was made that Crime Scene Technicians would no longer routinely respond to minor crimes against property.  Lastly, it was determined that the responsibility for evidence transports to and from the laboratory needed to be shifted away from the Crime Scene Technician and back to the customer.  While it is critical to provide excellent customer service, there also is a need to make sure that our limited resources are used and the taxpayer’s money is spent as responsibly as possible. 

 

There were several other examples of finding better ways of doing things in 2016 in light of resource challenges.  The Firearms and Toolmarks Unit entered into an agreement with the ATF to eliminate our backlog of potential NIBIN database matches that had grown because of limited staff.  Not only does this agreement provide us with an additional resource to evaluate potential NIBIN matches, but it has resulted in a reworking of the Firearms and Toolmarks Unit’s workflow which will better balance casework and NIBIN database activities into the future.  Also, the Toxicology Unit faced long turnaround times for blood alcohol and blood drug casework due to a lack of staffing.  By reassigning blood alcohol duties to two CDS chemists, the existing Toxicology staff could focus on the more labor intensive blood drug casework, and as a result, the Toxicology Unit completed 39% more cases than they did the previous year. 

 

As 2017 begins, the availability of resources is expected to improve, but even as they do there still needs to be a commitment to maximizing our efficiency.  To that end, several initiatives are planned.  First, FSD will implement a new Case Management program.  This will include the creation of a lab-wide Case Management standard operating procedure to bring uniformity to how casework assignments are prioritized and monitored throughout FSD.  In addition, each unit will be responsible for creating their own Case Management policy that will detail procedures unique to them.  Furthermore, a Case Management Section will be created to coordinate the evidence transport, central receiving, and StarLIMS roles ensuring that they all are operating in conjunction with one another as efficiently as possible.  Second, there is a need to enhance and streamline our IT, procurement, and hiring support services.  While these services are currently available, there is a need to give FSD more control in these areas in order to maximize our efficiency.  The size of our Division along with the technical nature of what we do warrants our own IT team, our own procurement officer, and our own human resources representative.  Third, we will continue to push forward with the implementation of StarLIMS.  In 2016, the CDS Unit became the first laboratory unit to operate fully within StarLIMS.  The stage is set to expand the use of StarLIMS to other laboratory units as well as to our customers, both of which will further enhance our efficiency.  Finally, FSD will join Project FORESIGHT which is a program sponsored by West Virginia University that allows crime laboratories to report key business metrics and receive back a statistical report indicating their level of productivity and cost effectiveness compared to optimal levels as well as levels of other forensic laboratories.  Knowing this information is critical to making informed decisions in regards to resource allocations, efficiencies, and value of services.

 

In conclusion, we have a responsibility to operate at the highest level of efficiency, but it needs to be absolutely clear that FSD will never make a business decision at the expense of quality or the well-being of our staff.  The level of dedication and professionalism that the men and women of FSD display everyday as public servants fills me with extreme pride and appreciation.  Unfortunately, there will always be pressures placed on the good folks at FSD, but rest assured that the Top Management team of Quality Assurance/Safety Manager Theresa DeAngelo, Assistant Commander F.Sgt. Laura Beck, Deputy Director Dr. Wanda Kuperus, and myself are fully committed to doing whatever we can to minimize those pressures… because our staff is our most important resource. 

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