In an effort to increase efficiency and turnaround time, the Biology Unit at the Mesa crime lab, which analyzes DNA, switched to an electronic system as of January 2013.
This unit has been upgrading and adding components to its lab with new technology over the past few years.
According to Forensic Services Administrator Kim Fiorucci, the lab started using new automated instruments which can perform and quickly evaluate test results.
Before the automated instruments, the lab was able to produce 12 samples in 12 hours. Now, it has the capability to produce 96 samples in four hours.
Switching to an electronic system was the next logical step, Fiorucci said.
“All the data that comes off the instruments is now electronically saved and electronically reviewed by other analysts,” she said. “This saved a lot of time for data transfer and transcription and avoided potential errors, on top of that.”
Just this past February, Fiorucci and her team found that the new turnaround time decreased to 34 days; that’s from the date of the request to the date that the report goes out. Before the implementation of these new technologies, the turnaround time was 63 days.
“I don’t think that’s ever been realized by any crime lab in the state,” she said. “Or, for that matter, even the nation.”
Initially after adding the electronic system, the lab had a 20-day decrease in turnaround time for results, from 63 to 43 days.
“We actually waited another month (after the initial decrease) to see if it was consistent or if that was just an anomaly,” Fiorucci said.
“But we found it went down even further from that,” she said of the ensuing drop from 43 days to 34 days.
According to its website, the Mesa crime lab has been an accredited laboratory since 2001.
The goal of the Forensic Services Section is to provide high-quality forensic science services that further the Mesa Police Department’s goal of responding to and ultimately decreasing crime in the City of Mesa.
Although the crime lab is in Mesa, it often performs analysis for neighboring Arizona cities, along other local and federal agencies, Fiorucci said.
The lab is known for its successful work, and the scientists often provide expert witness testimony in court cases regarding their findings in the areas of serology – body fluid identification – DNA and bloodstain pattern analysis.
The forensic scientists assigned to the biology unit examine evidence, looking for biological substances and analyzing samples to obtain a DNA profile.
The biology unit compares known profiles to determine if they should be included or excluded in a case; the profiles are then entered into the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), which compares evidence from one crime scene to another as well as the profiles of those arrested for or convicted of crimes nationwide.
Because of the lab’s importance to court cases, it is imperative that it be able to analyze the data as soon as possible without any errors.
Krista Placko, the Forensic Scientist Supervisor in the biology unit, said that the use of so much technology has been extremely beneficial in this regard.
“All of the information flows from our LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) to our instruments and then the data flows back from the instrument to the LIMS,” Placko said. “So we’re not having to hand enter anything, which reduces typographical errors and that kind of thing.”
Emylynn Sapinoso, a Forensic Scientist II specializing in DNA, said that with the paper system the lab had to print and scan a minimum of 35 pages for each sample, but with the electronic system they only have to print a minimum of five pages.
“All paperwork that was previously generated for the paper system now gets printed into an electronic filing system and database called NuGenesis,” she said.
Placko said that this new system helps with productivity in the lab and that staff is able to get things done more quickly now.
Other cities in Arizona, as well as other agencies, have taken an interest in the efficiency of this unit and have even started to work with Mesa to gain help with some of their cases. An intergovernmental agreement between Mesa and the Town of Gilbert to officially work together at the lab takes effect starting May 1, Placko said.