Voices of the State: Almost the same as TV

CSI action takes place in Alaska, as well as Hollywood

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Is there public interest in crime fighting and the forensic work associated with it? One only has to check TV listings to realize what a hot topic this is.

Alaska residents are fortunate to be served by a real-life team of forensic experts based on Tudor Road in Anchorage. Our state crime lab is an important part of crime solving in Alaska and provides a myriad of forensic laboratory and field services to law enforcement agencies in every part of the state.

Opened in 1986, our crime lab has six major focus areas that include the following:

n Breath alcohol testing program. Provides maintenance and training required to ensure that breath-testing instruments are reliable, accurate and properly used.

n Latent impressions. Experts process and identify fingerprints, palm prints and other evidence. A relatively long-standing science, latent work can be a foundational piece of resolving investigations.

n Crime scene investigation and processing services. These services are available to any department needing assistance with a major investigation to include traveling to remote locations in inclement weather. In a recent case, hours of tedious processing resulted in a murder conviction in the death of a 15-year-old originally thought to have committed suicide.

n Controlled substance testing. Often the heart of drug case prosecution, illicit drugs and controlled substances must be conclusively identified and quantified. The explosion of methamphetamine use and methamphetamine lab activity in Alaska has greatly impacted our staff.

n Criminalistics. Lab personnel analyze hairs, fibers and firearm evidence. It is meticulous work that can mean the difference in whether a case can be successfully prosecuted.

n DNA analysis. Recently the most talked about of all forensic sciences, and with good reason. Although DNA analysis takes far longer than depicted on television shows, it is extremely effective in identifying perpetrators of crimes or eliminating suspects. Our DNA professionals have matched unsolved sexual assault cases with offenders, linked previously unconnected cases together and identified homicide suspects in Alaska cases, as well as unsolved cases in other states.

Without question, the professional services provided within each of the six crime lab disciplines have tremendous impact on law enforcement's ability to successfully investigate cases.

We are fortunate to have a group of forensic experts who are highly respected in their individual areas of expertise, leaders in national forensic organizations and, in many cases, published authors in professional journals. Our personnel have invented and perfected new forensic techniques and tools that are in use around the world today.

Typical of any organization that provides the level of quality service and enjoys the reputation that our crime lab enjoys, the demand on their resources far outstrips the capabilities of both their staff and their facility. This is a case where more resources and more funding really do make a difference for the citizens of this state. The return on investment often is immeasurable in terms of the impact their services can have on the successful resolution of even one murder or rape or in the sexual abuse of one child.

The Legislature passed DNA legislation in the past two years that greatly aids law enforcement and provides more offender samples for comparison. As the case load increases for our limited staff, it is imperative that they have the tools to do the job.

With the support of Gov. Frank Murkowski, we recently obtained a second high capacity DNA analyzer. Funding obtained for the Municipality of Anchorage by Sen. Lisa Murkowski for addressing sexual assault cases funds an additional DNA analyst. We are in the planning stages for a proposal to expand the current lab, whose 30 employees already are cramped with no room for needed growth.

What the professionals at the state crime lab do every day is not a television story — although it could be. Through the work accomplished on behalf of law enforcement agencies from Barrow to Unalaska and Kotzebue to Ketchikan, the crime lab makes a difference in lives of Alaskans every day. All Alaskans can take comfort in knowing they have some of the best lab employees in the country living and working right here in Alaska.

William Tandeske is the commissioner

of the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

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