Following the philosophy of her predecessors, Netzel says the crime laboratory functions independently from its law enforcement side, yet maintains a tight relationship with KCPD units and the more than 210 agencies the crime laboratory has served.
“We report the facts and conclusions based on our testing and analysis,” she says, noting a request for analysis must be made with a good investigative reason.
Intra-agency and interagency collaboration
Hunt points out those working in the crime laboratory realize there are other stakeholders in the product they produce. Collaboration forged by long-standing criminal justice professionals is one of the intangibles that Hunt says makes the KCPD crime laboratory a great one. “We work directly with the lab and the prosecutor’s office, and we review cases before we submit samples to the lab for analysis,” Folsom describes. “By working together, we save time and money.” The crime laboratory isn’t spending time on cases that victims decided they didn’t want prosecuted or cases that have already been adjudicated.
Hunt says there often seems to be a lot of interagency consternation across the country.
“The bickering happens a lot in jurisdictions where each agency insists on strict and intractable roles,” he says. “We cross those lines, and I think that’s what makes us successful. Prosecutors investigate just as police do. We need the police after a case is filed. The police need us before a case is filed. We both need the lab before and after a case is filed. There is inherent overlap in all of our jobs.”
To collaborate, Hunt says agencies need to develop a relationship with one another.
“Interagency relationships are no different than personal relationships,” he says. “If you don’t talk, you’re going to get estranged, you’re going to lose contact, you’re going to lose interest. Even when times are tough and you’re not getting along, you’ve got to keep talking.” Folsom says sex crimes detectives call or e-mail the DNA section quite often. In meetings held twice a month, the violent cold case squad, the prosecutor’s office and crime laboratory discuss the latest CODIS hits and case strategy. While some jurisdictions may test first and ask questions later, Hunt says in his jurisdiction, the prosecutor’s office approves or disapproves cold cases for testing before they’re sent to the crime laboratory. Once the crime laboratory tests the samples and gets cold hits, criminalists enter the case information, and e-mail notifications are sent out saying a case has been filed through the Cold Hit Outcome Project (CHOP) system, which they’re testing for NIJ and the National District Attorneys Association.
Communications also are sent out through the crime laboratory’s customized Forensic Advantage LIMS from The Computer Solution Co., which went online in July 2010.
A few years ago, KCPD, the crime laboratory, the prosecutor’s office and others participated in an NIJ project focused on improving communications skills and streamlining procedures.
“I think it’s important that we all anticipate problems,” Hunt says. “We are one legal entity in the eyes of the courts.” Crime laboratory staff recently went through Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) training. Netzel says she’s never felt that adding more people would completely solve a problem. “I think there is a need to have more people in the laboratory, but there’s also a need for laboratory managers to help the staff focus on how we can improve our systems, how we can do this job more efficiently,” Netzel explains.
The demand for DNA
Requests for analysis can change. While KCPD has seen a decrease in DNA requests for violent crimes, Netzel says in the last four years or so, DNA submissions from property crimes and drug crimes have dramatically increased. When a DNA profile is developed but unmatched to a name in burglary cases, Jackson County prosecutors file a John Doe warrant prior to the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations.