From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The state Crime Lab doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but the work it does is critical for every police department and law enforcement agency in Arkansas.
That’s why the Legislative Council quickly approved a request for significant pay raises for five Associate Medical Examiners who work at the Crime Lab.
The boost in salaries allow Arkansas to recruit and keep key personnel, which is necessary for the Crime Lab to maintain its accreditation.
The medical examiners make sure that the Crime Lab can conduct timely forensic investigations on behalf of criminal justice agencies.
They’re also needed to perform autopsies and to issue death certificates to private citizens.
It seems as if their case load gets bigger every year. For example, I sponsored legislation in 2015 that authorized the collection of DNA samples from anyone arrested on felony charges.
Previously, DNA samples were only collected after an offender was convicted.
Since that law went into effect, thousands of additional DNA samples from Arkansas have been entered into the national data base.
The national DNA data base has profiles of about 15 million people, and five million are profiles of people who have been arrested.
Of all the profiles kept in the national data base, 60,000 came from Arkansas and more than 6,000 of the Arkansas profiles have helped police departments solve a case.
That’s a great track record, considering that Arkansas has only one lab sending DNA samples to the national data base. For comparison, Arizona has seven, Maryland has six and Texas has 17.
The Crime Lab has a special account with almost $2 million to pay for DNA analysis. The funds come from a fee of $250 that felony offenders have to pay.
The Crime Lab has a yearly budget of more than $12 million, because it does a lot more than collecting and analyzing DNA samples.
It has a digital evidence section, where analysts examine computers, laptops, cameras and cell phones. They gather evidence of criminal activity, such as hacking, fraud, arranging drug deals and white collar crimes.
Of course, if you watch crime dramas on television you know that the Crime Lab gathers fingerprints and blood samples.
Also, the lab’s technicians run ballistics tests on firearms and bullets found at crime scenes.
Chemical analysis has become more important than ever before, because law enforcement agencies are asking the Lab to determine the presence of illegal drugs at local crime scenes.
Their duties are not confined within the walls of the Crime Lab. One of their most important jobs is to travel to courtrooms around the state and testify in criminal cases.
Their evidence has to stand up in court when defense attorneys pose tough questions, and when expert witnesses offer conflicting opinions.
It’s essential that the evidence is stored carefully so it does not deteriorate. Also, the Crime Lab carefully maintains a chain of custody for each piece of evidence, so it will not be thrown out of court during the criminal trial.
The Crime Lab receives about 30,000 pieces of evidence every year from police departments across Arkansas.
Their day-to-day work may not be as glamorous as television shows make it appear, but it’s tremendously important for assisting law enforcement and keeping our families safe.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.