"Turnaround time has never been better," says Henry, attributing the program's success to the partnership between state and local law enforcement.
Since Utah agencies have been doing presumptive screening, they've eliminated about 50 to 60 percent of the cases submitted to the lab, he says. After they screen a case, it may not get filed, or it gets resolved at prelim and never makes it to trial. About 95 percent of the cases don't seem to make it to court, Henry estimates.Philadelphia moving forward
For about 20 years, Philadelphia narcotics officers have been using field tests and testifying for preliminary hearings. Today the District Attorney's office, in collaboration with the Philadelphia PD's Narcotics Bureau and the Forensic Science Bureau, is working to take its field testing program to the next step.
Preliminary hearings are required only in felony cases and the vast majority of cases in Philadelphia are non-felony drug possession cases, points out Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Sarah Hart.
Because the lab analysis can't always be done in time, cases have been getting delayed and discharged.
"We lose an unacceptable number of drug cases because the defense attorneys are insisting on the drug analyses before trial or a plea," Hart says.
To prevent that from happening, Philadelphia has been working to have narcotics officers qualified as experts for trial purposes in low-level cases. When officers would testify in misdemeanor cases, in municipal court trials, additional scientific analysis wouldn't be required.
"We may not be able to do it," Hart says. But given the new validation studies demonstrating the reliability of the field tests, the testing proficiency of the more than 100 narcotics officers (over 99.5 percent accuracy), and a quality assurance program, Philadelphia wants to move to the next step.
Hart compares these narcotics cases to drunk driving prosecutions. At first, prosecutors faced opposition to officers testifying about breathalyzer results instead of lab analysts testifying about blood alcohol content. Hart believes that the legal standards allowing breathalyzer testimony will also allow narcotics officers to testify at trial about the results of narcotics field tests.
Hart estimates that officers testifying as experts in municipal court trails would save the crime lab about 3,000 drug analyses per year.
Philadelphia Narcotics Bureau Chief Inspector William Blackburn agrees, "Not requiring further analysis would mean a huge savings."
Because further analysis would not be required, he says there would also be fewer continuances.Considering a FIDO program
Hart, who approved funding for FIDO when she was the NIJ director and later helped write the FIDO practice guide, says FIDO programs have a lot of promise throughout the country. According to the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, the most frequently requested forensic laboratory service was the identification of controlled substances.
"A lot of jurisdictions spend a tremendous amount of resources in the crime lab simply to confirm what an officer has reliably shown in a field test," Hart says.
Starting a FIDO program requires the cooperative effort of the prosecution, police and the lab. At the start of a new program, Hart says, the prosecution will be putting on more extensive evidence. However, an officer's credibility and competence will be at issue.
An officer who is not a specialized narcotics officer, or who has no experience making drug arrests, may have a difficult time in the program, Doi says. He adds that, during the first year of the Phoenix program, he frequently testified about his experience as a narcotics officer.
Initially there was thought in Utah that officers couldn't do the testing — it had to be done by chemists. The bureau has been able to help curtail that idea, but after about two years, there still are legal issues in some jurisdictions.