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State crime lab opens doors to show how forensic scientists work to help solve crimes

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 5:16 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13 2014 5:16 p.m. MDT

Senior forensic scientist Elisa Farmer takes images of evidence during a tour of the Utah State Crime Lab, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Solving crimes certainly involves police officers called to the scene, but it also takes those working a crime lab.

Reality is much different from fiction. During National Forensic Science Week, crime labs across the country — including the Utah State Crime Lab — opened their doors to show the public what they really do.

“We are the only full-service and accredited crime laboratory in the state,” said Jay Henry, director of the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services Laboratory System, also known as the state crime lab.

The crime lab at the Calvin Rampton Complex, 4501 S. 2700 West, uses the latest technology to solve crimes quicker and decrease backlogs.

The lab has about 40 employees, including about 30 forensic scientists, and support and administrative staff.

Forensic scientists are busier than ever processing evidence such as sexual assault kits, DNA, trace evidence, latent fingerprints and firearms.

“On 'CSI,' we were joking earlier they get maybe one or two cases per episode,” Henry said. “We do about 4,000 cases a year.”

The cases range from drugs to shootings to rape to homicide.

When it comes to DNA cases, from 2008 to 2012, the number of cases and items submitted to the lab doubled.

“In the past, if you had a case and it was negative, meaning no biological fluids were detected, that case stopped,” Henry said. “But as we have added more tools and new techniques, we’re getting results with things we didn’t have before.”

With more evidence submitted to the lab, it has created a better database.

“We average probably about a hit a week on an unsolved case,” Henry said.

But the lab is bursting at the seams, so there are plans in the works for a new building.

“It wasn’t designed for this purpose," said Keith Squires, commissioner of the Utah Department of Public Safety. “So we look forward for the state of Utah and the crime victims and citizens of the state to have a state-of-the-art facility built especially for the work they do here.”

The department plans to ask the Legislature for $39 million to build the new facility. It already owns the land next to its current locations and the plans are drawn.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: kmccord@deseretnews.com

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