innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It's 'CSI: Pikesville' at New Police Lab

This article appeared on the Baltimore Sun's webpage on October 17, 2006:

It's 'CSI: Pikesville' at New Police Lab

$30 million, 68,000-square-foot state police facility boasts the latest in crime-fighting technology

By Nick Shields
Sun Reporter

One brightly lit spacious area houses a lab where scientists use an array of chemicals to analyze blood found at a crime scene.

Not far from there is the unit where investigators examine objects for the faintest of fingerprints.

A few doors down is an area where police chemists work to identify suspected illegal drugs.
What may sound like the set for a TV crime drama is in reality the Maryland State Police's new $30 million Forensic Science Laboratory, which was completed in March but was opened Tuesday for a media tour.

"We do the same thing that you see on CSI," said Jay Tobin, director of the 68,000-square-foot facility on Milford Mill Road in Pikesville, not far from state police headquarters. "But we're the real deal."

The new lab represents an important upgrade over its cramped predecessor and provides investigators with the space for an area of police work that is rapidly growing in sophistication and importance, police officials say.

"The technology that's available to us today and the accuracy that it brings is extremely important in making cases, defining cases in court," Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, state police superintendent. "And also not just in the conviction side but sometimes we find people that are not guilty, we need to help that side of the justice system as well -- and it serves that."

Crime has been a hotly debated issue in the governor's race. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Democratic candidate, has routinely criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., saying the state police DNA crime lab has not been adequately staffed. Ehrlich, in a written statement announcing the completion of the laboratory, said, "My administration has worked hard to strengthen public safety in Maryland by providing our law enforcement personnel with the resources they need to keep us safe." He added, "We are pleased to see this project completed and know that it will support Maryland's continuing reputation as a leader in the use of technology to increase public safety."

The lab, which took about six years to design and build, replaces a 24,000-square-foot building, also in Pikesville. The expansion of the agency's DNA old research unit required that a satellite office be leased about a mile from the building.

Tobin recalled instances when investigators had to travel from the satellite facility to complete tasks.

"Here you have the entire unit under one roof," he said. "Communication is better and morale is better."

Amber Burns, a forensic chemist, said the new lab provides a more efficient workplace.
Investigators from police agencies across Maryland also will have access to the new lab, Tobin said, adding that Howard County has been the first jurisdiction to conduct casework in the facility.

State police also have established a partnership with Villa Julie College through which students can intern at the facility.

"It's a win-win relationship," Tobin said. "When it's time to fill a vacancy, I've got applicants that I know what they're about."

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