St. Paul police crime lab back up and running after scandal

St. Paul police officer Ron Himes demonstrates the digital imaging technology at the St. Paul Police Department Forensic Services Unit in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)
  1. Listen St. Paul opens new forensics lab

    Aug. 15, 2013 MPR’s Tim Nelson reports

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.

Magnetic powder used to detect fingerprints is demonstrated at the St. Paul Police Department Forensic Services Unit in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

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.

St. Paul police officer Alta Schaffer describes a fuming chamber at the St. Paul Police Department Forensic Services Unit in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

“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.

Ultraviolet light is used to demonstate evidence analysis at the St. Paul Police Department Forensic Services Unit in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

 

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.”

 

  • Paul Tuckner

    In the story I just heard on the radio, the reported noted that super glue is used to help enhance the presence of finger prints, which is what is often noted on TV in shows like CSI. She said that, “when heated it gives off hydrogen cyanide”. I think she was mistaken. It gives off cyanoacrylate vapor which is what it is composed of, which although it is not good to be exposed to, is not the same as the highly toxic hydrogen cyanide, which is a lethal toxin in small concentrations.