Crime Lab Improves Efficiency Without Sacrificing Quality
The Monroe County Crime Lab has implemented a new workflow leaders say has improved efficiency by 200 percent. Continuing on this path, it may actually end its case backlog in the next two years. It's some welcome news after a turbulent year at the lab.
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The concept seems surprisingly simple: a white board that tracks each case as it moves its way through DNA analysis to final review at the Monroe County Crime Lab.
Jennifer Hill is one of 13 forensic biologists here at the lab. They analyze evidence brought in by law enforcement to create DNA profiles.
Last year, Jennifer and several other analysts were trained by Sorenson Forensics out of Salt Lake City, Utah, in a new management system called Lean Six Sigma. The $57,000 program was paid for through federal grants.
"The testing is the same, but it changed the way we interact with each other and the way we track the cases and how we bring them to people's attention," Hill said.
Now along with the white board, analysts also, for example, fill out forms rather than just write notes in their reports so that each scientist's work is standardized.
Hill says they've increased productivity at the lab by 200 percent and hope to be at 400 percent by the end of the year.
"We are processing them more quickly and getting more cases out, so we're able to issue reports and service law enforcement and the legal system quicker for cases that are needed."
Right now, there are 479 backlogged cases at the lab. Thanks in part to this new system, the hope is to clear all of those by the end of 2014.
Hill says while they're working more efficiently, they're not sacrificing quality for quantity.
"As a section, we had to sit down and have everybody's input on making sure that we do ensure quality and we don't want people rushing through review because they are so important."
In June, the New York State Inspector General released a highly critical report of the lab here. Then lab administrator, Janet Anderson Seaquist, was fired.
Current lab administrator John Clark says while this new streamlined way of doing business was not in response to that report, it has prompted other changes at the lab.
"I think that the lab was always doing a good job, even when or prior to those issues with the lab director and Inspector General, so I don't believe we need to repair our reputation. I think our reputation was already very solid and we did make even more improvements after that report came out," Clark said.
Lab leaders are hoping as the Lean Six Sigma model helps eliminate the backlog, they will one day begin to implement new and even more advanced technologies that could help solve more cases.
"It absolutely is a lot of responsibility, and every single person here takes it very seriously."
The Monroe County Crime Lab is getting ready for accreditation inspection this June. Clark says this year the lab will be accredited under a new program that has more stringent standards and criteria.