In this, the second part of the series on needs assessment, I will address how to leverage your project stakeholders for support and determine the best funding strategy for your organization. The objective of this series is to prepare you for the big question, “Why do you need a new facility?”

Who are the stakeholders? Stakeholders are those who have an important voice and impact on your project. Stakeholders are also those your project may impact. It is crucial not to overlook any group or person that has a significant part of the forensic facility. By not including each stakeholder, the facility runs the risk of being improperly designed (either in physical characteristics or operational needs) or losing financial resources. Stakeholders typically associated with a forensic design/construction project:

1. Police, detectives, and those collecting evidence for forensic analysis services
It is vital to understand their needs and habits so they can better serve the community.

2. Prosecutors, Attorney General’s Office, courts, or those presenting the case during trial
This group has insight into future legal changes and ramifications that could affect various issues in the facility. For example, the storage of evidence, forensic analysis turnaround time, and even the observation of casework being processed. They may also be instrumental in providing or identifying funding for your project.

3. Community and Victims
Their opinions matter. Being sensitive to their needs and concerns is essential in gaining support for your project. Every agency should have a system in place to inform the community and help victims of crime. This could range from how the agency plans to serve the community better in the future to general information about a victim’s case.

In the fall of 2005, Crime Lab Design had the opportunity to work with Hope Olson, Director of the North Dakota State Police Crime Laboratory, and her staff. This effort was to plan, design, and build the expansion of their existing crime lab. The crime lab was in desperate need of more space, improved technology, and qualified staff. The need was even more apparent by the dramatic increase in methamphetamine-related cases within the state.

Before Crime Lab Design began working on the project, the lab was undergoing department and staff re-organization. Previously, they had been a part of the North Dakota Health Department, but restructured into their own division under the Attorney General’s office. The new Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem, was sworn in on January 9, 2001 and immediately made drug enforcement a priority. He developed a drug enforcement initiative that coordinates law enforcement and health and human service agencies; such as addiction counseling, youth education, and legislative changes for offenders.

Stenehjem launched a comprehensive state-wide plan to combat drug activity and address the rapidly growing problem of methamphetamine manufacturing and trafficking. The plan involves proposed changes in current state law. For example, improving and expanding upon the drug paraphernalia definition to encompass products which may be used to manufacture methamphetamine. He also proposed a change to coordinate the various aspects of the program between numbers of entities to improve efficiency and consolidate all drug offenses into one section of the statutory code. The plan calls for a centralized gathering of information by the Attorney General’s office. Attorney General Stenehjem said, “Moving the Crime Lab from the Health Department was exactly what needed to be done. Now the lab is front and center, where it belongs.”

The State’s law enforcement community fully supported the lab’s re-organization and expansion. Hope Olson stated, “It's a very good move for us. We have received tremendous information technology support, administrative support, and new personnel.” The move made the need for a new facility even more visible. “We are at the physical limit of what the existing building can hold,” Attorney General Stenehjem said. “We're in a building that's not adequate.”

Forensic laboratories seem to be a low priority for many legislatures and local government officials because the lab is not as visible as other services. Touring recently constructed facilities and your current facility is a key way to convince your agency’s non-technical executives and elected officials that the new lab should be a priority. Before the tour, gather a photographic diary of your facility and compare it to other recently constructed facilities. After various stakeholders review this diary, visit other facilities to see the benefits first hand. Remember to document the visit(s) thoroughly so you can evaluate the facilities’ physical and operational characteristics. The tour will enhance your case and support your main points: the lab is too small, under staffed, and requires new technology.

Overcrowding is one of the main problems in today’s forensic facilities. Make sure to explain the consequences of overcrowding to all of the stakeholders while touring your old facility. An overcrowded lab can have several negative outcomes including environmental, health, and safety issues for the staff.

Discuss how a needs assessment and construction process works with your fellow forensic professionals who have experienced them. Use this opportunity to gain insight into how they were successful in achieving support and funding for their projects. One option is to send your colleagues a short survey to collect written responses to help support your case. Questions could include the following:

1. How many DNA analysts do you have?
2. For CODIS, whom do you obtain DNA samples from? All convicted felons?
3. What is the approximate square footage of the DNA unit?
4. How many analysts do you have in the whole laboratory?
5. What is the approximate square footage of the whole laboratory?
6. What is the construction cost and total project cost for your new laboratory?
7. What population size does your laboratory serve?
8. Which forensic laboratory consultant did you utilize for your new laboratory?

Reach out to the facilities staff of your local government for their advice. They should be able to help you understand future capital projects slated for your existing facility, any thoughts of a master plan as it relates to other agency projects, and the life expectancy of your facility’s infrastructure. You might also consider contracting with an ex-government official to be your lobbyist. His or her past and present relationships could help move your project along more quickly.


The following section will address funding issues. Unfortunately, there is not one answer or solution for everyone’s situation. Most projects are a combination of the following funding strategies:

Partnerships are relationships between individuals or groups, characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility to achieve of a specified goal. For additional information on partnerships, please see “The Benefits of Partnerships” in the 2005 August/September issue of Forensic Magazine. An example of a successful partnership is the Los Angeles Regional Crime Lab Joint Powers Authority with 209,080 GSF and a cost of $78.7 million (construction) and $103 million (total project). This new facility will be shared jointly by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Police Department, and California State University-Los Angeles. It will meet ASCLD/LAB guidelines for accreditation and LEED certification. Both law enforcement agencies needed a more advanced facility. Both had some of the funds necessary for the project but not enough. The state agreed to help if the agencies would work together to meet their facility needs. The state university system also became an active partner because of the need for education space; and the fact the facility would be located on their property.

Legislation is the act or process of legislating; lawmaking. The Multipurpose Building of the New Jersey State Police is a legislative success story. The building is 195,000 GSF (total) with crime lab space of 123,150 GSF. The building cost $32.5 million (construction) and $42 million (total project). In an effort to create funding for the much needed forensic laboratory, the state attached an additional $2.00 fee to all moving violations issued by the state troopers. In one year the program raised around $1,000,000 for the crime lab. These funds were used to secure equipment, personnel, and training for the lab.

Lease Financing means to provide or raise the funds/capital for a project where the user rents the space for a given time and dollar amount. An example of a successful project funded through leasing is the Forensic Laboratory/Crime Scene Investigation/Evidence Vault of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The building has a total of 361,750 GSF with a cost of $70 million (est. construction). At the time of the needs assessment, the Police Department was occupying leased space located in an industrial park. The agency was in desperate need for an expanded facility. The City and County of Las Vegas have bylaws that will not allow them to own building space, so all space is leased. In an effort to deliver an expanded facility, Crime Lab Design explored the option of a developer-led effort to manage the contractor, architect, and financer. Going with that option, the agency’s new facility took around six to nine months to fit-out and move in.

Grants are a giving of funds for a specific purpose. The reality is that money does exist but getting it is the challenge. Most grant dollars require countless amounts of paper work, but eventually ending with more money for staff, equipment, and training.

Some helpful internet sites include:
Funding opportunities
Getting started budget worksheet
OJP standard forms
Grant funding worksheet
D&B number online application
Fed equitable sharing agreement
Federal assistance application

In conclusion, remember to stay focused on your main objective – building a solid case for a new facility. Raising support and building funds will be a long process. You should expect to feel frustrated at some point but keep your eye on the goal. It will all be worth it in the end.

Ken Mohr is a Principal and Sr. Forensic Laboratory Planner with Crime Lab Design, which provides full A/E services for forensic and medical examiner facilities.