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Doj Report on Increased Efficiency in Crime Laboratories Jan 2008

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice




Increasing Efficiency in Crime

Television has given forensic science great public visibility, but
provides viewers with the mistaken notion that crime laboratories
provide results quickly. In truth, most crime laboratories have large
case backlogs. In a census of publicly funded laboratories, the
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that crime laboratories
had more than 500,000 backlogged requests for forensic services.1
And a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report to Congress
suggested that “crime laboratory backlogs cause significant delays
in evidence being analyzed, resulting in investigation and court
proceeding delays.”2
Most crime laboratories report insufficient staffing as a reason for
laboratory backlogs. Because these laboratories have limited budgets
to hire additional staff,3 they employ a variety of strategies to manage
backlogged cases. For example, some laboratories establish case
acceptance policies to limit the number of cases they receive. Other
labs have returned evidence to police agencies because they could
not complete the analysis in a timely manner.


Some laboratories have found a way to address backlog problems
without a large increase in personnel or a policy that limits case
submissions. They hire consultants to assist them in implementing
managerial advances such as:

Office of Justice Programs

Process mapping. A system that uses flowcharts to help visualize
the laboratory’s analytical process. Laboratories use this infor­
mation to derive solutions to maximize efficiency.


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Efficiency forum. A review of laboratory analytical capabilities based on a project
management system, ADDIE, whose stages involve analysis, design, development,
implementation, and evaluation.


Business project management (BPM). A computer-enabled management tool that
supports change and innovation, often used by government agencies to streamline
administrative and analytical processes.

These techniques help managers review their laboratory systems and processes and
determine how best to allocate staff and resources. The techniques are often used to
redesign and streamline laboratory procedures and plan for new technologies.


The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory encountered severe backlog
challenges, causing a crisis that made personnel rethink management strategies. Between
2003 and 2005, the Palm Beach Crime Laboratory experienced an almost three-fold
increase in its DNA caseload—from 742 cases submitted in 2003 to more than 2,200 cases
in 2005. At the same time, the laboratory was conducting tests to implement new DNA
technologies and renovating laboratory space. Faced with the combined challenge of an
increased workload and process improvements, the laboratory used grant funding from
NIJ to hire a process mapping consulting firm.


“The first few days were a tedious review of what we already knew. Then the light bulb
went on,” said Cecelia Crouse, supervisor of the DNA section of the Palm Beach Crime
Laboratory. After hiring the process mapping consulting firm, the team started seeing
areas where time was wasted and began eliminating them. For example, the team calcu­
lated that scientists spent approximately 16 days a month on clerical work. When the labo­
ratory hired a new evidence coordinator to do the clerical work, they were able to analyze
an extra 100 cases per year, nearly the equivalent casework output of a full-time DNA analyst.


Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In 2000, the Florida Department of Law
Enforcement (FDLE) DNA database had a backlog of 12,000 samples older than 30 days
and anticipated receiving 35,000 new samples over the next year. One Florida center,
the Tallahassee Regional Operations Center, faced the added challenge of implementing
technology changes.
To address the situation, FDLE used grant funding to hire a consultant to help them analyze
their systems and implement process mapping. FDLE used the information developed
from process mapping exercises, applying necessary changes to their database laboratory
and eliminating their backlog by 2002, even though their sample submissions had
increased by 31 percent that year (to 46,000 new samples). By 2006, the sample analysis
time had decreased from 30 days to 8 days despite an approximately 85 percent increase
(since 2000) in the number of samples received.
Dave Coffman, chief of forensic services in Tallahassee and the former supervisor of the
DNA database, estimates that implementing the changes identified through process map­
ping has helped FDLE increase the capacity of the DNA database laboratory to 110,000
samples per year without hiring extra analytical staff. According to Coffman, information
produced during process mapping helped them justify being included in a new statewide
initiative on automatic labeling (i.e., barcoding) that will save the laboratory an additional
$300,000 per year.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation. When designing specifications for a new computerized
reporting system for its crime laboratory, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation decided to
try a new efficiency technique similar to process mapping. The Bureau’s old system

required laboratory personnel to mail approximately 100,000 reports to police agencies
and other users each year. The new paperless tracking and reporting system reduces the
time required to input data and send results to investigators. George Herrin, the Bureau’s
assistant deputy director, estimates the electronic distribution of reports saves the labora­
tory approximately three staff positions, or approximately $100,000 per year.


Illinois State Police. In 2006, the Illinois State Police reviewed their forensic biology and
DNA section using another process improvement initiative called the efficiency forum. This
process, based on another management tool used to evaluate and improve laboratory
procedures, was conducted with the assistance of the National Forensic Science Technology
Center.4 Although laboratories cannot calculate results this early in the process, Michael
Sheppo, former commander of the Illinois laboratory system, thinks that efficiency forum
recommendations will allow the laboratories to process evidence in their forensic biology
or DNA section more efficiently.
FBI Laboratory. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory is using business
project management (BPM) to review its laboratory processes and identify areas for
improvement. BPM is a computer-based tool that creates and tests workflow models. The
FBI is combining the efforts of consultants and in-house staff in this efficiency effort. When
the process is complete, the laboratory expects to eliminate unnecessary steps in its
processes, which will allow them to analyze more casework without an increase in staff.


“[Process mapping] was one of the best investments of time and money we ever made,”
said Palm Beach’s Crouse.
Others agree that modern efficiency techniques like process mapping have advanced labo­
ratory procedures and improved their labs. FDLE’s Coffman says that this management
review of their process helped FDLE create their “road map” for the future.
Laboratories building capacity are encouraged to seek ways to improve efficiency through
the use of strategic management tools such as process mapping, the efficiency forum, and
similar initiatives.


1. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories,
2002, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, February
2005, NCJ 207205.
2. National Institute of Justice, Status and Needs of Forensic Science Service Providers: A
Report to Congress, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of
Justice, March 2006, NCJ 213420.
3. National Institute of Justice, Forensic Sciences: Review of Status and Needs,
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, February
1999, NCJ 173412.
4. Forensic Services Review Project, National Forensic Science Technology Center,

This document is not intended to create, does not create, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at
law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. Opinions or points of view expressed in this document represent a consensus of the authors and do not
necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. The products and manufacturers discussed in this document are
presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice.


U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs


National Institute of Justice





Washington, DC 20531
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Increasing Efficiency in Crime Laboratories


Numerous commercial vendors provide process mapping consulting services.
Many of these vendors can be found through a traditional Internet search
For more information on the efficiency forum process facilitated by the
National Forensic Science Technology Center, see the Forensic Services
Review Project at




NCJ 220336