Newly accredited crime lab speeds evidence processing

jspector@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2013 

— When officers charged a motorist with driving while impaired, they sometimes had to wait months to get the blood test results from the State Bureau of Investigation lab.

Now, the newly accredited Raleigh/Wake City-County Bureau of Identification lab – using expanded facilities and technology – can perform those tests much quicker, allowing law enforcement agencies in Wake County to more efficiently investigate and clear cases.

The CCBI has occupied its $9 million facility, housed within the Wake County Detention Center complex, since May 2012, but they just received international accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board on June 11.

The move to the detention center expanded the department from one lab and one evidence room to six labs and four evidence rooms, director Sam Pennica said.

Blood alcohol tests in 30 days

While the SBI lab processes DWI blood tests for the entire state, CCBI can test blood alcohol levels for local cases in 30 days or less and blood drug levels in 60 days or less. They have examined 700 DWI blood cases since September when they opened that part of the lab, he said.

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said earlier this year that CCBI’s ability to do blood tests had helped them move along some DWI cases that had been stalled by the backlog in the SBI lab.

“We’re dealing with one county, where the state lab is trying to service 98 counties – their workload is much bigger,” Pennica said.

The SBI still handles cases involving firearms analysis, DNA evidence and trace evidence such as hairs.

The CCBI has 22 agents who work with local law enforcement to collect evidence at the scene. This includes everything from fingerprints to shoe prints and bugs found on dead bodies, which can help pinpoint the time of death, said Andy Parker, deputy director for crime scene investigation. The agents document the evidence and store it for analysis back at the lab.

“It’s our goal ... that the physical evidence points us in the direction of what occurred or did not occur,” Parker said.

Out in the field, investigators use hand-held finger print scanners to identify bodies and arrested suspects, accomplishing in minutes what used to take hours.

On the lab side, analysts cross-reference shoe prints from crime scenes with a database of shoe designs to advise investigators on what shoes the suspect was wearing, said Troy Hamlin, deputy director for the crime laboratory. At the old office, Parker added, agents had to compete with one another for use of the single shoe print analysis machine. That’s no longer an issue, and the shoe lab has plenty of space.

“At the old bureau, I had to get on the floor and lay out the samples because I didn’t have space to make a comparison,” Parker said.

The management and testing procedures to meet accreditation slow the work process, but add greater weight to the findings that come out of the lab, Pennica explained.

“Having the accreditation, I think, certainly carries a credential with it that is recognized by both the prosecution and the defense, the jury and the judge,” he said.

Staff writer Anne Blythe contributed to this report.

Spector: 919-836-4918

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