Daniel E. Katz
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.
1201 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville, MD 21208
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