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From a one-chemist operation established in 1937 at Austin's Camp Mabry, the Crime Laboratory has developed into a laboratory system with labs at 15 different locations across the state of Texas. Crime Lab personnel provide a variety of services to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of crimes and are nationally known for their abilities in forensic science (the evaluation and examination of evidence collected at the scene of a crime) and criminalistics (the science of recognizing, identifying, individualizing, and evaluating physical evidence by the application of natural science to law-science matters).
Standard areas of analysis include criminalistics or trace evidence (i.e., hair, fibers, paint, glass, gunshot residue, shoe prints, tire impressions, etc.), biological evidence/DNA, drugs, blood alcohol, fire debris, firearms and toolmarks, toxicology, latent fingerprints, questioned documents, digital/multimedia evidence, and specialized photographic requests. While all of these types of analysis except fire debris analysis are available through the Austin Laboratory, services provided by the other 14 DPS laboratories are strategically arranged for optimal access and support to the criminal justice community. The Crime Laboratory strives to keep abreast of the latest techniques in these areas in order to provide timely and accurate results to law enforcement agencies requesting assistance. Crime Lab personnel's investigative capabilities are further enhanced by the integration and exchange of local, state, regional, and national information via individualizing databases, including AFIS (fingerprints), NIBIN (firearms), and CODIS (DNA).
The Crime Laboratory also includes the Breath Alcohol Laboratory (BAL) and its Office of the Scientific Director (OSD). The BAL and OSD are legislatively charged with administering a statewide judicially acceptable forensic breath alcohol test program for the Crime Laboratory and for programs operating outside of the DPS Crime Laboratory System. Additionally, the BAL is responsible for the calibration and certification of evidential breath alcohol test instruments for the State as well as the production of certified reference materials used in these calibration activities. There are 19 calibration sites strategically located across the State.
The Crime Laboratory Service also includes the State CODIS Laboratory. The State CODIS Laboratory in Austin is responsible for receiving, analyzing, and verifying acceptability of subject samples, including AFIS verification of fingerprints on the DNA database cards; entering and storing DNA types into a database; and monitoring and enabling access to that database. Texas DPS is also charged with the task of managing the Statewide CODIS Program.
The overall goal of the Crime Laboratory is to provide expert forensic laboratory services to law enforcement agencies within Texas. These services include:
The DPS crime laboratories have been continuously accredited since 1986 through the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). Accreditation is part of a laboratory's quality assurance program, which includes proficiency testing, continuing education, customer liaison, and other programs to help the laboratory provide more effective overall service. In 2007, the Crime Laboratory underwent an assessment based on a new international program with ASCLD/LAB, which includes ISO 17025:2005 standards. Under these new standards, the on-site external assessment by ASCLD/LAB is very comprehensive. Every aspect of the laboratory's operation is carefully reviewed, including its management practices, surveys of customer satisfaction (customer liaison), evidence handling procedures, laboratory security procedures, training programs, proficiency testing, competency testing records, and testimony monitoring records. The assessment team reviews case files for each employee in the laboratory to ensure that laboratory procedures are consistently being followed and that ASCLD/LAB-International and ISO 17025 requirements are being consistently met. The Texas DPS Crime Laboratory system is the largest state system that has undergone this level of accreditation. In 2013, the Breath Alcohol Laboratory was accredited to the ASCLD/LAB international program using the ISO 17025:2005 standards. Every aspect of the laboratory’s operations related to the calibration of breath alcohol instrumentation and the production of certified reference materials was carefully reviewed and assessed for compliance with the ISO standard. The Breath Alcohol Laboratory is the largest laboratory in the nation to provide such services on a statewide level.
The Crime Laboratory Service is comprised of approximately 473 personnel. New Crime Lab employees are provided intensive training before being approved to examine evidence. The length of initial training depends on the forensic scientist's areas of analysis. Some areas of analysis—such as drugs—may take approximately twelve months, while other areas — such as firearms or questioned documents — may take 24 months. Forensic scientists assist peace officers with crime scene investigations, provide instruction at peace officer training seminars, analyze physical evidence in criminal cases, and present results of analyses in courtroom testimony.