OUR PROBLEMS... some reasons why we need a new Forensic Science Center

Southern Nevada does not have sufficient forensic laboratory capacity to process all of the available evidence from crime scenes. A lot of the existing evidence cannot be analyzed in a timely manner, and still more evidence will never be analyzed under the current limiting conditions. Much of the available evidence sits on shelves without undergoing processing and analysis, and as a direct result: crimes remain unsolved, suspects roam freely, and additional people and businesses needlessly become victims.

The southern half of the state has only two publicly operated forensic laboratories. The largest lab is managed by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD), the other by the City of Henderson Police Department. The two labs support approximately 73% of the State's population, yet Clark County alone reported approximately 80 to 92.5 percent of the Nevada UCR crimes that were published in the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Those numbers included 80% of the murders, 81% of the aggravated assaults, 84% of the vehicle thefts, and 92.5% of the robberies that were reported in Nevada. In addition, many crimes that occur are not reported to law enforcement. Sources: FBI UCR 2014, and the U.S. Department of Justice "Criminal Victimization, 2014" report.


One look at this chart tells us a lot ...

... that what we've been doing is not good enough.


This chart shows Nevada's crime rates through 2015. In 2015, Nevada was #1 in Robbery, #2 overall Violent Crime, #3 Burglary, #4 Aggravated Assault, #4 Vehicle Theft, #7 Rape, and #9 Murder. Additional details about crime rates through 2015 are provided in the crime stats page on this site.

Note: 1 is the worst rate in the Country, 50 is the best. "Murder" category includes non-negligent (willful) manslaughter.
Data source: FBI UCR "Crime in the U.S." reports through 2015.

There is a solution . . .

When we correct the forensic lab shortages we will begin to close gaps in crime solving, criime prevention, and in the overall criminal justice system.

As a direct result of forensic laboratory backlogs many crimes remain unsolved, crimes that would otherwise be prevented are not, and additional innocent people are needlessly victimized... some pay the ultimate price.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) operates the largest Forensic Laboratory (previously called a "crime lab") in southern Nevada, and has the only DNA analysis capability in the area. The LVMPD lab does not have the capacity to support all of Southern Nevada, and some of the needed capabilities aren’t included. The LVMPD Forensic Lab is overwhelmed with evidence analysis backlogs. The lab outsources some of its own blood drug testing and DNA analysis, and suffers from months-long and year-long delays.

The LVMPD laboratory buildings are not publicly owned. The buildings (which include Crime Scene Investigation) are leased from a private corporation.

Photo: LVMPD Forensic Lab, retrieved 6-3-16

The City of Henderson operates a small forensic laboratory. It is staffed with some of the most qualitied forensic scientists in Nevada and the Nation, however, the facility is inadequate for its original intended purpose and cannot adequately meet all of our communities' needs. The “temporary” 4,500 sq. ft. facility has been repurposed, repaired, and upgraded by several owners over the past 28 years. Room for additional personnel, functional areas, and related instrumentation/equipment does not exist. The building cannot be upgraded or expanded further, and has numerous electrical and other problems that are cost prohibitive to repair or replace, further increasing the critical need to build a new and larger facility.

Henderson outsources DNA and firearms evidence to the LVMPD lab, which in turn outsources much of the DNA evidence to out-of-state private labs.

The Henderson Lab conducts all blood alcohol, blood drug, and controlled substance analysis; and fingerprint/footwear/tire print comparisons; for the City of Henderson and Boulder City. Occasionally, the lab conducts similar analysis for other agencies in the valley and in other Nevada counties. Henderson has the operational capability (as of June 2016) to screen and confirm seventy-seven different drugs in blood, including some of the newer “spices” (synthetic cannabinoids).

Photo: 4,500 sq. ft. Henderson Forensic Laboratory. Source: R. Workman, 2016

Henderson’s lab has a “handle-it-once” policy in regard to drug evidence analysis. That means presumptive tests and full screening are immediately followed by confirmation of all of the suspected drugs indicated. This process may take additional time initially, but is a much more effective and efficient practice, and helps ensure that approved reports of analysis are completed in time to fully support the criminal justice system’s needs, regardless of the “side” interested in the results. Some of the larger labs in the Country only conduct “lab-grade” presumptive and initial screening tests, pending court dates, and limit the follow-up confirmation analysis due to their overwhelming backlogs. Labs that follow that practice have difficulty making wholesale changes in procedures once their backlogs become too great and their staffing is limited.

Due to Henderson’s extended capabilities, including being the only agency in Southern Nevada qualified to conduct footwear and tire impression evidence comparison, practices, several other agencies have asked for help with their forensic evidence analysis. However, the lab cannot handle additional work in the existing facility, and has backlogs of its own in some areas.

LVMPD reportedly has the ability to screen and confirm approximately fifteen different drugs in blood (May 2016). Agencies have asked for, and are in need of help, due to LVMPD’s limited capabilities and capacity in blood alcohol, blood drug analysis; and the analysis of drugs (controlled substances, illicit drugs, etc.), occasionally referred to as "pills, powder, and pot". However, the temporary Henderson facility cannot physically support additional scientists or analytical instruments.

As evidence is outsourced to some private and other government labs; capability and capacity lags, and backlogs continue to exist. Some very important, viable evidence sits on the shelves and will not be examined at all, and Justice is not served.

Recent events in the U.S. have reminded us of the requirement for local public safety agencies to take the lead in regard to crime scene processing and forensic evidence analysis.

The FBI, ATF, and other federal agencies are not equipped to do the processing of all federal crimes in local cities. In most cases, including terrorist acts, it is a team effort. In fact, most bank robberies in the Las Vegas Valley are processed by non-sworn "civilian" crime scene investigators/analysts while FBI agents and local detectives perform other investigative duties. In addition to crime scene processing, evidence from those scenes is analyzed primarily by local forensic labs at the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LVMPD) and in the City of Henderson. Rarely is evidence from bank robberies sent to the FBI's Quantico forensic lab for analysis. The same is true for most local, and many federal, drug crimes and firearms related crimes. Federal agencies and local labs often assist each other based on work load, manpower availabiitly, type of evidence, etc. In addition, the LVMPD lab sends some of their evidence to the FBI lab in Virginia.

Just as local law enforcement is an essential component in our defense against terrorist attacks and subsequent investigation; crime scene investigation, forensic laboratory analysis, and identifying or confirming otherwise unknown persons through fingerprint processing and comparison, all conducted by non-sworn “civilians”, are significant factors in our homeland security efforts throughout Southern Nevada and nationwide.

Our communities’ forensic needs require a huge boost to provide continual safety and security, and to fully support of our criminal justice system. The forensic laboratory shortage in Southern Nevada is a critical deficiency that must be corrected in order to:

  • Reduce, and eliminate, evidence analysis backlogs
  • Solve crimes
  • Prevent crime
  • Save lives

UCR Note: The FBI published the following to encourage caution when reviewing the stats provided by the annual reports:

“Caution against ranking—Figures used in this Report were submitted voluntarily by law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. It is important to remember that crime is a social problem and, therefore, a concern of the entire community. In addition, the efforts of law enforcement are limited to factors within its control. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual agencies. Further information on this topic can be obtained in Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics: Their Proper Use. Source: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/ucr-statistics-their-proper-use