State Police crime lab vastly improving caseload
W.Va. – The West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory has
reduced the number of pending cases by more than half, in part by adding to the
ranks of its talented and highly trained staff.
The lab began the year with around 2,300
pending cases. The backlog by the end of 2016 had been nearly 5,000 cases.
“We’re at a level now where we always
should have been with the caseload that we’re expected to carry,” said Forensic
Laboratory Director Sheri Lemons.
Located at State Police headquarters in
South Charleston, the lab analyzes evidence across seven sections: Drug
Identification; Biochemistry/DNA; Firearms/Toolmarks/Impression Evidence;
Latent Prints; Toxicology; Trace Evidence; and Evidence Processing.
Fully accredited by the ANSI National
Accreditation Board (ANAB), formerly American Society of Crime Laboratory
Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), it is West Virginia’s
only full-service lab. It accepts evidence from as many as 800 federal, state, county and local
agencies – and all at no charge.
As a result, the WVSPFL fields an average
of 6,700 requests for analysis annually. But employee turnover and the regular
need to replace or upgrade equipment have posed considerable challenges in
recent years. The Biochemistry/DNA Section, for instance, lost half its staff
“Our staff is highly educated, highly trained. It takes some
of them up to two years if they are in a specific discipline to be able to even
begin casework,” Lemons said. She added, “A plan of action had to be made to determine how we
were going to reduce and eventually eliminate the backlog.”
Grants and improved funding
championed by Gov. Jim Justice have resulted in more competitive salaries, a
revamped career progression structure and critical equipment purchases. The
WVSPFL now has increased its staff to approximately 50 forensic analysis and
has absolutely made an amazing difference in the backlog,” said State Police
Superintendent Jan Cahill.
The funding benefiting the crime lab included a pair of $1
million transfers by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey from
litigation settlement proceeds, in 2016 and 2017, specifically to improve
equipment and staffing.
Reducing the pending caseload means fewer delays in criminal
cases and trials. That, in turn, will save counties and municipalities on
regional jail costs. The State Police estimated in 2017 that improving the
turnaround time for pending cases could reduce jail expenses by between $6
million and $15 million annually.
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Video press release: https://youtu.be/32c2lcPGooo
Video of interviews with State Police
Superintendent Jan Cahill and WVSP Forensic Laboratory Director Sheri Lemons
and Assistant Director Meredith Chambers, as well as B-roll: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ym0h728y63jcdu5/AABjmdNMBZQkoPsR9rLccGhta?dl=0