Advertisement

Making more office space, calculating the amount of DNA staff needed to work DNA backlogs, and creating more storage space are issues common to DNA labs today.

“Who did the deed?” This is one of the most important questions asked when a crime has been committed. Increasingly, that question is answered by the analysis of DNA evidence. This article will discuss three issues that DNA units may be facing as the need for DNA analysis increases, and offer solutions to them in turn.

These issues are: how to provide office space for new staff members, how to decide the number of new staff needed based on increases in the number of cases worked, and what to do with the evidence being saved as additional types of DNA services are being offered. I will use the following example to discuss the issues:

The Biology Laboratory would like to add at least 30 new staff in order to decrease the case turnaround time and to decrease the case backlog. The current staff of 12 does not provide enough manpower to analyze the number of cases each month that are being received. The current laboratory backlog is greater than 800 cases, while case turnaround time including serology and DNA analysis averages approximately one year. Adding 30 new positions to the laboratory will allow cases to be worked as they are submitted and will provide enough staff to facilitate a decrease in the backlog. The additional staff will also decrease the case turnaround time to the laboratory’s goal of 45 days.

Finding Office Space for Everyone
The need for more staff is not uncommon in DNA labs across the country or even internationally. However, where do you put all these new staff? Finding or subdividing laboratory space to accommodate this increase in staff may be easier than finding each of them an office.We have all seen staff double up in the laboratory but it is difficult to double up in one’s office.

The Solution
Hoteling (office hoteling) is a practice that provides office space on an as needed basis. Rather than each person having an assigned desk, desks are available as-needed or by reservation. This will provide the agency with the capacity of office space for those who need it when they need it. However it does require a phone and data system that will provide each staff member with their own telephone number extension and voice mailbox.

How Many New Staff Are Needed?
In our hypothetical example, the laboratory’s backlog is greater than 800 cases, while case turnaround time including serology and DNA analysis averages approximately one year. The lab’s goal is to turn around cases in 45 days. How many new staff might be needed to work this backlog; how did we estimate that 30 new staff were needed in our example?

The Solution
Let’s take the data generated from the 2004 NIJ “50 Largest Labs” study and apply some of our generated metrics to this situation.1 It’s estimated that an examiner could complete 166 biological screening cases and 70 DNA analysis cases each year.We figure that’s about 105 cases per examiner per year. If the examiner had a technician assisting him/her, then the number could be 140 cases for this team. If our backlog is approximately 800 cases per year, and one examiner/technician team can work 140 cases then we need six teams (5.7 rounded up). With the effort of hitting a 45 day turnaround time the need for staff is more than doubled, including managers and administrative staff, resulting in 30 new positions.

Where Do We Put Everything?
Increasingly, DNA laboratories are being asked to provide additional services including:

  • Identification of biological fluids (forensic serology) on items of evidence submitted by law enforcement in conjunction with criminal investigations.
  • Comparison of DNA profiles extracted from biological fluids (DNA analysis) obtained from items of evidence submitted by law enforcement in conjunction with criminal investigations.
  • DNA analysis of items of evidence submitted by lay enforcement for the purpose of obtaining DNA profiles for entry into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) obtained from items of evidence submitted by law enforcement in conjunction with criminal investigations.
  • DNA analysis of unidentified bodies for comparison to samples submitted by possible family members for body identification.

With all of these additional cases being submitted the need for storage has increased, and so the question is “Where are we going to store all of this?”

The Solution
High Density Storage (HDS) is the answer. HDS is any type of storage that offers compaction of the accessible aisle ways with the material being stored—shelves slide into the empty space between the shelves when not in use, allowing more shelves than fixed shelving.

These three very common questions, namely, where do you find office space for new staff, how do you calculate the amount of new staff needed based on your DNA backlog, and where do you store the additional evidence; are all interconnected. The three potential solutions offered here could be implemented today in part or whole.

Reference:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories: 50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002. NCJ 205988. September 2004.

 

Ken Mohr is a Principal and Senior Forensic Planner with Crime Lab Design which provides full architectural and engineering services for forensic and medical examiner facilities worldwide.

Advertisement
Advertisement