RD62 - Report on the Division of Forensic Science

Executive Summary:
In June 2004, Dr. Paul Ferrara, Director of the Virginia Division of Forensic Sciences (DFS), sent a letter to the Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court urging law enforcement agencies to use field tests to help alleviate the backlog of cases waiting forensic testing (see Attachment 1). As a result of the memo and subsequent interviews with local law enforcement officials and Commonwealth’s Attorneys, the Crime Commission initiated a data request to the DFS in September 2004 to begin the process of examining the lab’s changes in workload, staffing and funding (see Attachment 2). Upon receipt of the initial data request, Crime Commission staff met with the DFS Director and senior staff on two occasions to make additional data requests and to ask questions related to the lab’s workload.

In summary, there are 4 main issues which have contributed to the backlog of cases and delays at the Forensics Lab.

These include:

• Increased workload;
• Lack of funding for requested positions and program expansion;
• Inability to hire staff for approved positions due to salary compression and an inability to provide competitive salary offers; and,
• Staff turnover.

Upon consultation with DFS staff and after analysis of employment and workload data, there are 9 steps that have been identified to alleviate the workload problems at the lab. Seven steps require short-term appropriations and one step will require long-range planning and appropriations:

Funding for the remainder of the FY 05/06 Biennium

• $2,140,726 for 31 new forensic staff;
• $3,096,922 to raise lab salaries 26.3% across the board to correct salary compression and allow for competitive hiring with federal forensics labs;
• $300,000 for the Forensic Professional Achievement Program;
• $906,000 to restore funding for the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine with requirements for contract employment by students;
• $1,254,000 to expand the Eastern Lab and $54,000 to pay rent on the new space;
• $376,500 to begin a mitochondrial DNA testing program; and,
• Funds to acquire land and plan for a new Northern Virginia facility; most recent DFS estimate of land acquisition/planning was $3,517,000.

Construction in the FY 07/08 Biennium

• Appropriate funds to build a new lab in Northern Virginia; DFS requested $33,737,000 for new facility in FY 2005.

In addition, the General Assembly should consider two long-term statutory changes in the oversight of the lab to alleviate problems of accessibility and resource needs identification in the future:

• Legislation to make the lab a separate, independent agency within the Secretary of Public Safety with an administrative oversight board and a scientific advisory board; and,
• Mandate the lab provide an annual report to the Senate Finance Committee, House Appropriations Committee and the Crime Commission on workload, resource needs and long range planning for the lab.