The Problem: Forensic Services Errors and Backlogs
In September 2008, the Detroit Crime Laboratory was shuttered after investigations found major inconsistencies in forensic services quality, including high error rates and testing backlogs. To assist, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) partnered with NFSTC to support training and technical assistance (TTA) to the city of Detroit for the Michigan Public Safety Project (MPSP). A multi-faceted project began to evaluate the situation and provide a path forward to establish model forensic science services for the city of Detroit.
The Objective: Model Forensic Services for Detroit
The objective of MPSP was to build a collaborative team that addressed previous case discrepancies and developed a state-of-the art crime laboratory facility and processes. In addition, the project will create a reference document, a road map for other communities facing similar challenges with best practices and recommendations for achieving solutions.
One of the most critical tasks was to identifyall appropriate stakeholders and bring them together. A working board was established, including leaders from these stakeholders:
- City of Detroit
- State of Michigan
- Michigan State Police
- Detroit Police Department
- Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office
- U.S. Attorney General’s Office
- Michigan Attorney General’s Office
- Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment board
- Michigan State University
The board began meeting in mid-2010 to identify the size and scope of the project and begin to plan solutions.
Assisting Other Communities
NFSTC and BJA developed a comprehensive model based on the work of the Michigan Public Safety Project to assist community leaders in addressing forensic service problems that impact numerous stakeholder groups. The final document consists of a ten-step course of action, tools and guidance documents, and additional resources aimed at reaching optimal solutions. The easy-to-use guide walks leaders through the process of project organization, goal setting, goal monitoring and effective communication to assist in restructuring forensic services to meet the needs of the community and the justice system.
Download the final document in PDF:
To effectively address different aspects of this problem, the tasks were separated into three separate projects. As of June 2011, the MPSP has accomplished a great deal of forward motion for each project:
- Processing approximately 10,500 backlogged sexual assault kits: Michigan State University assisted with a sub-set of this project, the “400 Project,” which included the review of a sample of 400 kits to determine the scope of work and estimate the potential costs, personnel and time needed to conduct a full review. The “400 Project,” which was completed in July 2011, was funded by grants from Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs‘ Service/Training/Officers/Prosecutors (STOP) grant, STOP-ARRA grant, and the DOJ, Office on Violence Against Women’s Sexual Assault Services Culturally Specific Grant Program (SASP). The project was coordinated by the Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment Board. Armed with the information from MSU, the MSPS board is looking into funding sources and other resources to complete the remaining 10,100 kits. View the results of the “400 Project” here:
- Review casework from the shuttered Detroit crime laboratory: All cases/all services going back one full year prior to closing; all forensic firearms case going back five years prior to closing. To address this issue, Wayne County Prosecutor’s office has created a team of reviewers who are currently in the process of reviewing the estimated 25,000 cases identified. Completion of this project is subject to the availability of resources and funding; however, significant progress continues to be made on the casework review project.
- Develop plan to build and staff new forensic laboratory in Detroit: The State of Michigan and City of Detroit have selected and purchased a building for the new crime laboratory and are collaborating with stakeholder on the layout of the facility and the services that will be provided. An architectural firm has established the space requirements for the facility to function effectively and preserve space for future expansion. Work is underway to determine the technology platforms that will be used and how the new facility will connect and share information with the seven other crime laboratories in Michigan.
This project was funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), FY09 BJA Congressionally Directed Funding award #2009-D1-BX-K028. The National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC), award recipient, was asked to assist the criminal justice community within the State of Michigan by providing forensic technical assistance in project management, coordination, planning, implementation and oversight.