Sunday, February 17, 2008

Metro chief wants own DNA lab

By KATE HOWARD • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • February 17, 2008 Nearly 600 cases passed through the Metro Police Department's forensics lab last year, and the bullets, guns and fingerprints collected at crime scenes were inspected one by one. That's because the century-old facility, a converted garage behind the department's James Robertson Parkway headquarters, has one microscope to compare bullets, one machine to enter ballistics information into the database, and one room to test confiscated guns. Because the integrity of evidence demands separate work space for each case, forensic examiners with fresh homicide cases often have to wait their turn. The lack of space is the reason the Police Department is studying a move into a new facility. But Chief Ronal Serpas has been lobbying for the funds to add more than space. He wants to stop sending his department's DNA analyses to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab and get the capabilities to analyze them in-house, prioritizing cases as crime trends dictate. "The TBI does a great job with DNA, but there's 400 police departments knocking at the door of the TBI," Serpas said. Old fire facility studied Metro police submitted 179 cases for examination to the TBI last year, said Joe Minor of the agency's forensics department. That accounts for about 17 percent of the total caseload at Nashville TBI headquarters. Cases important to the public, such as the December theft of two Davidson County Election Commission laptops containing Social Security numbers of 337,000 voters, require a letter from the district attorney general's office asking the TBI lab to bump them up on the list. "If we have our own DNA lab, we don't have to ask anyone for permission," Serpas said. The department got about $500,000 last year to study a possible renovation of the Nashville Fire headquarters for a new lab, and Serpas said he plans to look into the possibilities of making DNA analysis one of its primary exports. Posted by MS

No comments: