Working to ease casework burdens and facilitate the numerous tasks facing crime laboratories throughout the Midwest, the Midwest Forensics Resource Center is always happy to introduce potential partners to its goals and the resource network that helps the MFRC meet those goals. Such was the case when David Baldwin and Todd Zdorkowski, MFRC director and associate director, respectively, met with Kevin Techau, Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, in January.
Operating within the Iowa DPS, the Division of Criminal Investigation is directed by Eugene Meyer and provides investigators and investigative support to local, county and state law enforcement agencies. The Iowa Criminalistics Laboratory operates within the DCI, is administered by Darwin Chapman, and provides forensic science and casework support to local, county and state law enforcement agencies.
Sharing a similar desire to assist crime laboratories with their investigative work, the DCI and ICL have long been MFRC partners. Consequently, Baldwin and Zdorkowski were pleased by the opportunity to meet with Commissioner Techau, Meyer and Chapman to visit about additional ways in which the MFRC might further assist the DPS in accomplishing its mission of promoting public safety for Iowans.
Baldwin explained to Techau that the MFRC was established within the Ames Laboratory as a means of helping crime laboratories in the upper Midwest address problems by providing access to the expertise and instrumentation that a national laboratory and a university have available.
"We [Ames Laboratory] spend a lot of federal tax dollars on instrumentation for specialized missions, but we'd also like to make that sort of thing available to crime laboratories to better deal with their missions," said Baldwin. "We realize that crime lab investigators know what types of expertise and equipment they need, and the best thing the MFRC can do is let them tell us what they need. So we're really a resource center," he added. "We make existing resources available and introduce new ones as they are developed at Ames Laboratory and Iowa State. We do all this as a partnership with the state crime laboratories currently in a 10-state region."
Baldwin highlighted the MFRC's five mission areas for Techau: casework assistance; forensic training; university edu-cation in the forensic sciences; forensic science R&D; and the newest mission area, technical innovations in management and infrastructure.
Elaborating on the fifth mission area, Baldwin said, "A lot of the problems you see in any organization are management issues and infrastructure issues. State organizations don't always have the resources and time to explore how to make those organizations run better. So what the MRFC is trying to do is bring in engineering faculty and information management faculty from Iowa State to address those types of problems."
The MFRC is currently working on three projects within the innovations in management and infrastructure mission. One project is examining laboratory information management systems â€” the software used to control the flow of information within crime laboratories. Another is looking at paperless technology within the laboratory â€” cutting down on the use of paper and the need to store it, retrieve it and "mine" it for information later. The third project is investigating the use of radio frequency identification tagging that would make it possible to track a piece of evidence and determine its location at a particular moment in time.
Baldwin explained the third project, saying, "By having knowledge of where the evidence is sitting at any given time, we hope to help improve the final laboratory flow of operations. Essentially, all commercial businesses with large inventories are exploring the technology, and it's about time we made this available to crime laboratories," he emphasized.
Following his introduction to the MFRC, its five-part mission and some of the 12 current research projects, Commissioner Techau said, "This is a tremendous resource. It seems like you have a model that could be extended to several departments within law enforcement. It makes sense to me."
Commissioner Techau's visit concluded with the opportunity to tour a few of the Iowa State University resource areas made available to crime laboratories through the MFRC. His stops included the Instructional Technology Center in the Communications Building and the Information Assurance Center in Coover Hall.
During the tours, Baldwin and Zdorkowski visited with the Commissioner about DPS issues that might benefit from the MFRC resource network, including training, homeland security and computer crime.
~ Saren Johnston