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Frequently Asked Questions & Quick Facts

 

What is a forensic crime lab?

A forensic crime lab is a common term for a facility where personnel process physical evidence related to crimes and crime scenes. The evidence processing may be for DNA, fingerprints, firearms, narcotics, computers, and many other areas. Some agencies include Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) personnel and a variety of other functions within the "crime lab" umbrella. Many modern crime labs also have a large evidence vault in the same building or nearby.

What is the difference between a forensic crime lab and a forensic science center?

The term Forensic Science Center has slightly different meanings in different jurisdictions. For our purposes, the term "Forensic Science Center" will be used to describe a facility that includes the functions of a full-service Forensic Crime Lab, an Evidence Vault for temporarily holding evidence that requires analysis, and, in some cases a Crime Scene Investigation Section. An educational Research Institute component is expected to be added in the future, and will be considered a part of the Forensic Science Center .

What are the consequences of not having sufficient forensic evidence analysis capabilties in southern Nevada?

Forensic evidence collection, processing and analysis capability throughout southern Nevada is in a critical shortage.

This problem is accentuated by a valley as large as the Las Vegas valley, and other parts of southern Nevada, not having sufficient full service forensic evidence analysis capability. It takes a lot of evidence processing work space, specialized equipment and laboratory facilities, office and support areas to conduct the analysis and other associated actions correctly and in a timely manner.

Without sufficient forensic/ crime laboratory capability, not all potential evidence can be recovered, some evidence becomes unusable, many cases are not prosecuted, and numerous cases remain unsolved.

 

Will the Forensic Science Center help other law enforcement agencies in the Las Vegas Valley?

Absolutely! The Center’s resources will be used to assist as many law enforcement and other applicable public agencies in southern Nevada to every extent possible.

We have already begun talked with personnel in many public agencies in the valley, with the assumption that this project will be funded, to develop a team concept and protocols to accept and analyze their evidence.

What is DNA

DNA (the abbreviation for deoxyribonucleic acid, which is the genetic material present in the cells of all living organisms) is the fundamental building block for an individual’s entire genetic makeup. A person’s DNA is the same in every cell (with a nucleus). The DNA in a person's blood is the same as the DNA in their skin cells, semen, and saliva. DNA is contained in blood, semen, skin cells, tissue, organs, muscle, brain cells, bone, teeth, hair, saliva, mucus, perspiration, fingernails, urine, etc.

What is the amount of DNA evidence a particular city or agency may collect and how much is being analyzed?

In one example, one medium size police department evidence vault in southern Nevada receives over 1000 packages of evidence each month. Let's assume that each crime scene with physical evidence to be processed or collected, has potential DNA on many of the items that the suspect(s) handled. With a conservative average of one potential DNA sample per evidence package, over 1000 potential sources of DNA evidence are recovered each month. Of course, many of those packages may not contain any DNA samples at all and other packages may have large numbers of DNA samples. Some cases may not require DNA evidence analysis in order to be solved.

Aren’t there sufficient numbers of forensic crime labs in Nevada?

There are two regional forensic crime laboratories in Nevada: They are the Washoe County Lab ( Reno) and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory. Both labs have huge backlogs in forensic evidence processing, and neither has sufficient manpower or the equipment required to process all of the evidence recovered throughout the State. The CIty of Henderson Police Department operates a small forensic laboratory, and provides limited services in the areas of fingerprint identification, blood/alcohol analysis, and narcotics/illicit drug analysis.

Where do area public agencies send their forensic evidence for analysis?

The availability of forensic evidence processing and analysis in southern Nevada recently suffered a loss when Quest Diagnostics stopped processing forensic-related cases. This subject/answer will be answered as soon as additional information is available (this entry made August 22, 2009).

In the case of DNA evidence: DNA evidence is analyzed by the following locations: Bexar County Forensic Science Center in San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD); California Department of Justice, Laboratory Corporation (LabCorp) in North Carolina; and other private laboratories outside the State of Nevada.

Some of the firearm evidence and arson evidence is analyzed by LVMPD. Gun Shot Residue evidence is often analyzed in Bexar County, Texas.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice report "Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005", released in July 2008, the majority of public labs throughout the U.S. are already overwhelmed with their own cases and can only accept a small amount of additional work. In fact, the report stated that the year-end increase in forensic evidence analysis backlog cases in the U.S. increased from 287,000 in 2002 to 359,000 in 2005. We are not immune in southern Nevada.

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Click here for a link to the PDF "Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005"

What functions will the Forensic Science Center include?

The following areas are included in a typical modern forensic crime laboratory and will provide a basis for the Forensic Science Center:

  • Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit
  • DNA analysis
  • Firearms testing, examination and comparison
  • Trace evidence/microscopy
  • Fingerprint Section (crime scene prints)
  • Footwear and tire impression comparison
  • Narcotics and controlled substance analysis
  • Blood/alcohol analysis
  • Tool mark identification
  • Questioned document examination
  • Arson evidence analysis
  • Training, Quality Control and Laboratory Accreditation
  • Computer Forensics
  • Central Evidence Vault
  • Multiple-bay vehicle examination area

Shouldn’t Clark County and southern Nevada have more than one forensic crime laboratory?

Absolutely. This is a critical need that must be met as quickly as possible. Southern Nevada has a significant shortage in our overall forensics evidence analysis capability. This will also have a negative impact in our Homeland Security capabilities.

During October and November 2005 there was no active Forensic Crime Lab in Clark County. The Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory was forced to shut down its operations for several weeks in order to move to a different location. This situation magnified existing problems in our ability to collect and process evidence, conduct criminal investigations, and maintain our criminal justice system.

We cannot afford to have another lapse in our capability to process forensic evidence.

Why don’t you just add personnel to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department forensic lab and use their services?

This is an inefficient, ineffective, and incorrect procedure to follow.

Many “small” departments follow that procedure due to staffing and financial reasons. However, depending on the location of public agency customers, court facilities, etc., this is not always a reasonable option. “Centralization” with a single laboratory in such a largely populated area as the Las Vegas Valley and southern Nevada is not a reasonable option for the long term.

There is a limit to what functions can and should be centralized under one roof. Forensic evidence processing and analysis has proven to be a poor candidate in the Las Vegas valley.

The correct methods for processing evidence requires following specific steps in sequence. These sequences include various stages of sampling and processing in one or more of the following areas: evidence screening, fingerprints, DNA, serology, toxicology, drug/narcotics identification, trace evidence, microscopy, firearms, and tool marks.

Failure to follow the correct sequence and process evidence at each stage is a failure to adhere to standard forensic procedures. These failures prevent the proper collection of evidence and lead to significant problems during investigations and in Court.

The only way to completely and correctly process evidence for cases investigated and crime scenes processed in Henderson, is in a single full-service forensic crime laboratory located in the City of Henderson.

Why private funding? Why doesn’t the City of Henderson use the tax dollars it collects to build a forensic crime lab?

The City of Henderson uses the money it collects through sales taxes, permits, and other revenue sources to efficiently manage the City and provide an excellent quality-of-life for the residents and businesses. Henderson is a very efficient and lean government agency, but the amount of funds required for such a large project is not within the City’s current capability.

Isn’t thirty seven million dollars ($37,000,000) a lot for a private fundraiser?

Yes, without a doubt, thirty-seven million dollars is a lot of money to raise privately. In fact, we hope to raise additional funds (from various sources) for necessary equipment and to support some of the salaries and operational costs for the first few years. But the benefits will far outweigh the costs and there is no shortage of concerned, caring, giving persons and groups who are willing to share their resources to keep our community safe and strong.

Some examples of successful local large scale fund raising projects include the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center, Bishop Gorman High School, and the Hebrew Academy. These three projects alone raised over 100 million dollars through Philanthropists and other private sources. There are hundreds of other examples throughout our community. We also hope to gain the favorable attention of persons and organizations outside the local valley and the State, and look forward to receiving financial assistance from them as well.

With the addition of a state-of-the-art Forensic Science Center in southern Nevada, the entire Las Vegas valley and southern Nevada will benefit. As crime is held in check, and even decreases, our community is safer.

Can’t something smaller be built to save money?

Yes, an excellent point that was discussed recently (August 2009).

Initial cost projections were based on a 77,000 sq. ft. facility to reasonably meet the current and future needs for approximately the next 15 years. This included a 10,000 sq. ft. evidence vault with exterior wall access for future expansion.

The estimates included sufficient space to house crime scene analysts and their evidence processing garage and other related evidence processing and packaging areas.

In light of the current economic problems in Nevada, it may be a responsible idea to develop a plan for a smaller facility, perhaps a 25,000 to 50,000 sq. foot facility, by reducing plans to include space for only laboratory analysis, and remove the option to house crime scene investigation personnel and to substantially reduce the size of the evidence vault to only accomodate forensic laboratory analysis needs. The architectural design would be required to include the structural integrity, infrastructure, and ground area to easily accommodate future expansion of the facility.

This site will be updated to reflect options that may help reduce facility size and cost, to ensure we can raise the funds to provide additional critical forensic evidence analysis capability as soon as possible.

What is the project timeline and cost projection for the Forensic Science Center?

There are a number of variables, however, we will accelerate the project as much as possible. In the event that large amounts of funds are received ahead of schedule, we will work with the applicable public agency/agencies to develop an accelerated plan and begin some of the architectural and pre-construction phases. please refer to the PDF at this link: project cost estimates.

How long with it take for the Forensic Science Center to "pay for itself"?

From the day the Center starts operation; every case that is solved, every rape or kidnap that is prevented, every life that is saved; will contribute to an overall feeling that the Center has "paid for itself" many times over.

What are examples of some of the equipment in a modern Forensic Science Center?

  • DNA Processing and Analysis Equipment 
  • Blood Alcohol Analysis and Narcotics Analysis Equipment 
  • Field and Laboratory High Power Forensic Lasers  
  • Multi-bay vehicle processing garage with vehicle lifts 
  • Evidence drying cabinets 
  • Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) 
  • Firearms Test Bay and Examination Rooms 
  • Photogrammetry Equipment 
  • Comparison microscopes 
  • Trinocular and projection microscopes for hair and fiber examinations 
  • High resolution questioned document examination workstation
  • Updated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)
  • Add thousands of palm prints to existing AFIS database for electronic searches
  • Ten-Print Review Station 
  • High Quality Ventilation and Filtration System
  • Scanning Electron Microscope
  • Vacuum Metal Deposition Chamber
  • Evidence Photography Light Boxes
  • Forensic video analysis equipment

If an individual or organization makes a donation, will they receive preferential treatment in the event they are the victim of a crime or need other police services?

No. The services that the Forensic Science Center will provide would be prioritized and scheduled according to type of crime, status of involved subjects or suspects, injuries to victims, factors concerning possible serial crimes, case workload, and numerous other objective factors.

 

References:
"Census of Public Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005", U.S. Department of Justice, July 2008.
"DNA", The President's DNA Initiative - Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology, www.dna.gov


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