By Yeager, Robert
Law & Order , Vol. 50, No. 5
The Indianapolis Marion County Forensic Services Agency (IMCFSA) recently installed a new Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). This crime lab provides broad forensic analysis to clients in Indiana. Lab clients include ATF, United States Postal Service, Treasury Department, state police, Marion County Sheriff, the Indianapolis Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. Testing covers Serology and DNA, Firearms and Toolmarks, Fingerprints, Footprints, Trace and Drug Chemistry and Questioned Documents.
The lab also collects crime scene evidence, generates reports on test results, and provides expert testimony in court. According to Larry Schultz, Quality Assurance Manager for IMCFSA, the documentation, tracking and auditing required for lab accreditation, chain of custody protection, reporting, calibration, file storage and court presentations threatened to overwhelm the lab if it didn't automate lab operations.
Like this lab, many forensic laboratories battle a persistent backlog of crime-scene evidence to be analyzed. Manual systems, requiring far more documentation time, can severely limit lab productivity and efficiency. Furthermore, properly recording the chain of custody in logbooks or paper records is extremely time consuming and error prone, and also requires the storage and maintenance of hard-copy records for future reference. This limits the amount of information that can be stored in a professional, concise and easily retrevable manner.
Properly automated, labs can relieve themselves of these headaches, producing more timely and accurate analytical results, which can be instantly transmitted to the law enforcement and judicial personnel requiring them. This is the function of the new Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (BARD) LIMS recently installed at the Indianapolis Marion County Laboratory.
BARD LIMS is supplied by Forensic Technology, Inc, manufacturer of the IBIS ballistic identification and tracking system. The Indiana lab had used IBIS for several years and was pleased with its effectiveness, so they were comfortable with installing an LIMS also supplied by Forensic Technology. BARD is a new networked information sharing solution for law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.
BARD LIMS interfaces with all current laboratory instruments, and automates the entire workflow throughout the laboratory. All evidence is managed in an ASCLD/LAB and ISO 17025 environment.
Traditionally, as a case moved through the Indiana lab, tracking the evidence manually became both cumbersome and time consuming. Using the LIMS bar coding, evidence tracking is now done automatically. All test results are stored in the LIMS server, with printouts available as required. Daily computer backup copies are held off site at a secure location. Consequently, lab data is more secure than ever before.
To maximize lab efficiency, each IMCFSA drug chemist typically handles about 10 cases at a time, many requiring different lab instruments. Each analyst's computer communicates with the server through infrared wireless technology. So, as the lab tests are completed, they are sent to the BARD server. Results are recorded electronically and stored with any associated reports.
All analytical reports are subject to a series of electronic approvals, and the approval path is stored and maintained within LIMS. Downstream approvals may only be obtained when proper upstream approvals have been noted within the system.
A good example of the LIMS usage is in the analysis of controlled substances- a large part of the IMCFSA lab's workload at 12,000 cases per year. These analyses utilize a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS), a time-consuming device that streams pages of spectral analyses into a desktop computer, as their primary instrument.
BARD LIMS interfaces directly with the GC/MS, and accomplishes the mathematical calculations required to yield the final results, which can then be automatically printed and/or electronically transmitted to those personnel requiring them. …