Extraordinary developments in DNA technology over the past several years have dramatically increased the available pool of evidence that can be subjected to DNA testing. This increasing volume of evidence, together with expanded databases containing identifying information from convicted felons, has created a tremendous resource for law enforcement to help solve crimes and to protect the innocent. These improvements in DNA technology have created a need to reevaluate how crime labs operate and whether state and local policies and procedures take advantage of this technology.
Although crime laboratories in Arizona are generally held in high regard, the available resources for labs throughout the state have not kept pace with the increased demand for DNA services. Additionally, state-wide improvements in DNA lab operations are difficult to effectuate because there is no mechanism in place to ensure a cohesive state-wide approach to processing DNA evidence. Some laboratories in Arizona are owned and operated by the state, while others are owned and operated by city police departments. Because the various laboratories do not share a common funding source or a common supervising agency, there is a need for better coordination of efforts among the labs and for more uniform policies regarding information sharing.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard invited representatives from state and city crime laboratories, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office, local law enforcement departments, the prosecution and defense community, the judiciary, and victims’ advocacy groups to participate in a state-wide DNA and Forensic Technology Task Force.1 The group was asked to consider concerns raised in previous audits of state and local laboratories, including backlogs and funding problems, as well as other issues, such as information and equipment sharing among state and local laboratories, and statewide coordination of efforts to ensure that Arizona takes advantage of available funding for state and local DNA programs.
Based on recommendations from the Task Force, Attorney General Goddard recommends that a permanent state-wide Forensic Services Advisory Committee be established under the auspices of the Attorney General’s Office, with support from the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC), to facilitate statewide planning and coordination of efforts among state and local laboratories. ACJC is a legislatively created entity charged with helping coordinate criminal justice systems improvements throughout the state; ACJC currently helps coordinate meetings of laboratory directors and assists some of the laboratories with grant requests.
The Advisory Committee should include representatives of law enforcement agencies that currently operate laboratories, as well as law enforcement agencies that do not have their own laboratories. Additional committee members, as outlined in Appendix B, should include laboratory directors, a representative of an organization representing victims’ families, a retired Superior Court or Appellate Court judge, and a forensic scientist from a national organization such as the American Society of Crime Lab Directors or the National Forensic Science Technology Center. A Chairperson should be appointed to a two-year term.
Attorney General Goddard recommends that the proposed Forensic Services Advisory Committee be given authority to establish and monitor performance measures and to work with lab directors to coordinate long-term planning, including equipment sharing and specialization by state and local laboratories. The Advisory Committee should also be given authority to consider and address questions or concerns from law enforcement agencies that do not have their own crime lab and from the public regarding lab operations.