The Austin Police Department Forensic Science Bureau is a nationally accredited forensic laboratory, established to provide forensic laboratory services to the citizens of Austin. The Bureau also provides services to other law enforcement agencies through inter-local agreements to the extent its resources allow. Staff provides technical assistance, evaluates and collects evidence at crime scenes, evaluates and analyzes evidence, interprets results, and provides expert testimony relatedto the evaluation and analyses of physical evidence.
HISTORY OF THE BUREAU
The Bureau started with a small number of forensic disciplines as far back as 1972. Since that time the Bureau has seen major changes in its structure, staff, and mission.
Initially, the forensic disciplines consisted of a small number of people assigned to the Photo-Identification Section, Chemistry Lab, and Evidence Room. Today, the Bureau consists of the following sections: Forensic Chemistry, Firearms and Toolmark, Multi-Media, Crime Scene, Latent Prints, Polygraph, Forensic Toxicology, Case Management, and Evidence Control.
The Bureau is currently managed by and staffed with civilians. In 1996, the Forensic Captain position was civilianized as well as the supervisory position for the Identification Section. These key positions were civilianized through grant funding in an effort to enhance continuity and direction of the forensic disciplines, which resulted in the formation the Forensic Science Division. In 2017 the City separated the Division into its own Bureau within the Department. The Bureau is led by a civilian Director at the Executive Command – Level, a position that requires a strong scientific foundation and demonstrable forensic and quality assurance experience. These requirements put in place by the City and the Department provide an unprecedented level of independence and technical oversight for the Bureau.
The Latent Print Section (previously referred to as the Identification Section) is the oldest operating forensic discipline within the Department, originating before WWII. As advancements in fingerprint technology increased, the need to separate the Identification Section developed. Accordingly, in 2002 the Identification Section was separated into the current Crime Scene Section and Latent Print Section. The accredited Crime Scene Section is responsible for crime scene investigation including recognition, documentation, collection, preservation and processing of evidence to include latent print processing in the laboratory. The Latent Print Section is responsible for the examination, comparison, analysis and identification of latent print evidence, as well as the operations and maintenance of the local Automated Palm and Fingerprint Identification System (APFIS).
In 1972, the Chemistry Lab was established with the hiring of one chemist who helped support the state regulated Breath Alcohol Testing Program and performed limited drug testing. In 1975, the lab increased its drug testing capability by hiring an additional drug chemist. In the mid-1980's, the Chemistry Lab began performing blood alcohol analysis in support of traffic investigations and DWI cases. By 1992, the lab grew to provide analysis of controlled substances and blood alcohol. The Clandestine Lab Response Team was created in 1990 and continues to operate today. This team of chemists and narcotics officers is responsible for dismantling volatile and highly dangerous methamphetamine labs. Today, the section is called the Forensic Chemistry Section to appropriately reflect the type of analysis actually performed. In 2016 the Forensic Chemistry Section separated the blood alcohol analysis functions from the rest of the unit, creating the Forensic Toxicology Section. The Forensic Toxicology Section is responsible for conducting blood alcohol analysis in support of traffic investigations and DWI cases.
The Firearm and Toolmark Section was created in 1984, and is responsible for matching fractured items to their source; comparing marks left at a scene with suspect tool; and comparing firearms-related evidence recovered at crime scenes. The Firearm and Toolmark analysts and Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) Specialist test fire seized firearms and document the results for future reference. The section also manages the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) system, which is an image-based database and national computer network designed and supported by the ATF.
The Multi-Media Section provides technical support in areas of photography, film processing, audio and video production, duplication; surveillance photography and videography; computer-generated composite drawings; preparation of photographic line-ups and administrative photography.
The Polygraph Section was established in 1976 and provides polygraph testing in support of Department’s investigative mission. Polygraph examination support is also provided to other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies on an as-needed basis. The Polygraph Examiner also supports APD's Recruiting Office by overseeing and conducting pre-employment polygraph examinations.
The Case Management Section was formed in April 2018 and assumes the combined responsibilities of DNA Outsourcing and Property Disposal. The Case Management Section manages outsourced forensic analysis services, including coordinating distribution of information to City Stakeholders. Since February of 2017 the Bureau and the members of the Case Management Section have outsourced all backlogged Sexual Assault Kits for DNA testing. Beginning in April 2018, the Case Management Section will coordinate, review and verify the legally required authorizations for disposition of property. The Case Management Section works in close coordination with the Evidence Control Section.
The Evidence Control Section is responsible for the safe storage and legal disposition of all evidence, found or abandoned property, and all seized property coming into the possession of the Austin Police Department. It maintains a strict chain of custody and evidence record for presentation in court. Due to the increase in evidence submitted every year, the Evidence Control Section was re-located to an off-site facility in 2011.
The purpose of the Forensic Science Bureau is to provide timely, independent, accurate and objective scientific and investigative support to the criminal justice system through forensic analysis.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The Bureau is responsible for providing the Department, Citizens of Austin and numerous other customers, a high level of forensic science services and support based on quality, timeliness, accuracy, objectivity, and professional standards.
The objectives of the Bureau are supported by the following major goals:
- Provide crime scene support;
- Provide photographic, video and audio support;
- Provide forensic examinations and analyses on evidentiary items;
- Provide polygraph support;
- Provide timely and accurate reports;
- Maintain the integrity and chain of custody of evidentiary items in our possession;
- Provide objective and accurate testimony;
- Provide quality assurance and a continuous improvement process;
- Enhance scientific capabilities and technical defensibility;
- Maintain cost effectiveness without compromising accuracy and quality.