Strategic Human Resource Management in the Forensic Science Laboratory

Article excerpt

Introduction

Today's public forensic science laboratories should implement state-of-the-art human resource management methods. One reason is to improve the retention of laboratory personnel. High-staff turnover impedes reducing the backlog in DNA processing (Rondeaux 2003). To improve employee retention, laboratory managers can implement innovative human resource techniques, often without significant cost. This article discusses specific staffing challenges that can be addressed using practical human resource planning, recruiting, and retention strategies for forensic science personnel.

There is no doubt that the infrastructure of today's public laboratories should improve. Higher salaries for new and existing personnel, new and better facilities, and the increased use of technology should be implemented. However, these changes cost considerable taxpayer's dollars and take time and resources to put into practice. Although government leaders recognize the value of expanding forensic resources, additional funds are difficult to come by when national, state, and local budgets are already stretched.

Although more dollars are needed for additional resources, current technology in human resource management can be implemented today for practical improvements in public laboratories. Several strategies in human resource planning, recruiting, and retention are suggested. These strategies are based on responses from a national, web-based survey of forensic science laboratory directors (Becker et al. 2003). These human resource management practices can have a direct impact on selecting and retaining good employees.

Planning Strategies

The forensic science community often considers human resource planning a well-developed process constrained by budgetary considerations. However, two strategies could benefit management in the planning arena even more: developing estimates of staffing requirements and determining the value of forensic services.

Develop estimates of staff needed.

To optimize human resource planning, it is important to understand the labor market in the forensic science community. Forecasting involves reconciling the gap between today's labor supply and future labor demands. The demand for services includes performing analyses on all cases submitted to the laboratory. Because there is no agreement on the supply of forensic scientists in the United States (Dillon 1999), it is difficult to forecast the applicant population on which to draw when planning new hiring programs.

To surmount this problem, it is proposed that agencies estimate staffing needs based on a ratio of one forensic scientist to approximately 30,000 people (Dale and Becker 2003). A forensic scientist is defined as one who testifies on the analyses performed in a case. Estimates based on geopolitical populations provide a common standard that can be understood and compared across disparate units and agencies.

A recent audit evaluating the quality of forensic services in the United Kingdom reports that there are 2,158 scientists for a population of 60.2 million (Improving Service Delivery: The Forensic Science Service March 2003). We extrapolate that this results in a ratio of one forensic scientist per 27,896 people in the general population, which is close to the staffing recommendation.

Develop estimates of the value and/or costs of forensic science services to the community.

Private laboratories charge law enforcement agencies up to $3,000 for forensic tests, but state laboratories charge as little as $100 per test (Crime Control Digest 2002). The average value of a completed DNA profile is estimated at $500 per sample. Laboratories should determine the value of the costs and services that they provide to the community and then use these values as a common benchmark in resource planning and discussions with legislators.

Recruiting Strategies

Managers of forensic science laboratories can be proactive by using innovative recruitment strategies. …