Officials discuss growth of state’s crime lab

Posted at 8:14 PM, Aug 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-13 22:14:11-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- TV dramas about forensic science are very popular these days, and part of the reason why is that crime labs are solving more crimes than ever.

The scientists at the state crime lab jokingly say CSI might solve one or two cases per episode, but they do 4,000 cases every year.

“Some are easier some are more complex, some take a couple hours to work, some cases can take weeks or months to work depending on the complexity of it,” said Jay Henry, Lab Director for the Department of Public Safety.

Police and prosecutors rely heavily on forensic findings, and between 2008 and 2012 the number of cases and items submitted to the crime lab doubled.

“There used to be a time that we would test our cases and get negative results because techniques just weren't sensitive enough," Henry said. "We are getting results with smaller amounts of samples than before."

Recently, police agencies across the state fell under scrutiny because of a high volume of untested rape kits. The crime lab developed a new approach that would speed up the process by taking only the best samples and expediting them to get results in half the time.

“We think we can do testing of rape kits faster and better and in a more economical sense, and provide results faster to law enforcement,” Henry said.

The state crime lab’s case load continues to grow, and its administrators said it needs a new building to grow with it.

“There are some challenges here for the analysts," Henry said. "If you look down the way you can see the bays filled with reference materials, and equipment, and case files, and computer information, and that makes it really difficult to work cases."

If the project moves forward, Utah could see a new lab by 2017.