St. Paul’s embattled police lab is back up and running after a scandal closed the facility last summer.
The new facility has added staff and new equipment. Police Chief Tom Smith hopes the lab, now called the “Forensic Services Unit,” will earn professional accreditation in the next 18 months to two years.
“A year ago… I said we’re going to turn over every stone, we’re going to take a look at what we need to change, and we’ve done just that,” Smith said. “I want our public and our citizens to be confident in our forensic services unit… We have gone far along our way to building out our laboratory, putting in new equipment, we have new standard operating procedures.”
The crime lab shut down last year, after a court case in Dakota County uncovered a host of problems: training had been only informal, documentation was scant and testing procedures were questionable.
Two independent consultants subsequently found “major” errors in nearly every aspect of the lab’s work, including drug testing.
Police officials said procedures and training have since improved. The lab has increased the number of police officers working there from two to four, Assistant Police Chief Kathy Wuorinen said.
The department, which formerly assigned three forensic scientists to drug testing and to fingerprint analysis, now has three scientists doing fingerprint work. It dropped in-house drug testing and moved that work to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab.
St. Paul police said they had no immediate plans to resume the work at the police lab.
“At some point we will look at that,” Wuorinen said.
The city dedicated nearly $1 million to revamp the lab, including new equipment and a new lab manager. Smith also said that department officials hope to hire several more forensic scientists.
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom has toured the new forensics unit and likes what he sees.
“The police department should be commended for taking a proactive response, stepping up right away to address the concerns,” Backstrom said. “They’ve hired new staff. They’re going through rigorous training, in terms of what we’ve been told, and we’re confident that what they’re doing is going to be admissible in court.”