by Ray Bendici
Dec 24, 2012
08:55 AMUnsteady Habits
Cleanup in the Lab
For the “Being There” column of the April 2010 issue of Connecticut Magazine, I visited the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden. In the story, I described each department I toured as “very busy,” which, as it turns out, wasn’t just making the hardworking scientists at the lab sound good.
During my visit, I heard about the “CSI effect,” where victims in almost every crime—from the smallest robbery on up—want DNA evidence like “they saw on TV” to solve their case. In real life, it takes weeks (not hours) to properly process a DNA sample, and the onslaught of test requests from local police departments across the state was making for a monumental challenge.
Due to staff and funding shortages, and an enormous backlog of cases involving DNA testing—“a decade of neglect,” as Gov. Dannel Malloy characterized it—the crime lab lost its national accreditation in August 2011 and with it, the ability to post profiles to the FBI’s national data bank. It also came to light that the lab’s two top DNA scientists had been using accrued comp time to do private consulting work, another black eye for the lab.
Changes were immediately instituted, including the addition of 19 new employees and an administrative reorganization. The backlog was eased and the lab was recertified last February.
The lab also now has a new director: Dr. Guy Vallaro, previously the director of the Massachusetts state forensic lab. He takes over starting January 1 and has pledged as his first priority “to reduce current backlogs while providing the highest quality forensic services in support of all the stakeholders in the criminal justice system.” There are plans to add another 14 employees, although the state’s impending budget cuts could affect that number.
Still, Vallaro has his work cut out for him in getting the lab back to the time when it was one of the most respected in the nation.