CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory has reduced the number of pending cases by more than half, in part by adding to the ranks of its talented and highly trained staff.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory has reduced the number of pending cases by more than half, in part by adding to the ranks of its talented and highly trained staff.
The lab began the year with around 2,300 pending cases. The backlog by the end of 2016 had been nearly 5,000 cases.
“We’re at a level now where we always should have been with the caseload that we’re expected to carry,” said Forensic Laboratory Director Sheri Lemons.
Located at State Police headquarters in South Charleston, the lab analyzes evidence across seven sections: Drug Identification; Biochemistry/DNA; Firearms/Toolmarks/Impression Evidence; Latent Prints; Toxicology; Trace Evidence; and Evidence Processing.
Fully accredited by the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), formerly American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB), it is West Virginia’s only full-service lab. It accepts evidence from as many as 800 federal, state, county and local agencies – and all at no charge.
As a result, the WVSPFL fields an average of 6,700 requests for analysis annually. But employee turnover and the regular need to replace or upgrade equipment have posed considerable challenges in recent years. The Biochemistry/DNA Section, for instance, lost half its staff in 2014.
“Our staff is highly educated, highly trained. It takes some of them up to two years if they are in a specific discipline to be able to even begin casework,” Lemons said. She added, “A plan of action had to be made to determine how we were going to reduce and eventually eliminate the backlog.”
Grants and improved funding championed by Gov. Jim Justice have resulted in more competitive salaries, a revamped career progression structure and critical equipment purchases. The WVSPFL now has increased its staff to approximately 50 forensic analysis and technician positions.
“That has absolutely made an amazing difference in the backlog,” said State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill.
The funding benefiting the crime lab included a pair of $1 million transfers by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey from litigation settlement proceeds, in 2016 and 2017, specifically to improve equipment and staffing.
Reducing the pending caseload means fewer delays in criminal cases and trials. That, in turn, will save counties and municipalities on regional jail costs. The State Police estimated in 2017 that improving the turnaround time for pending cases could reduce jail expenses by between $6 million and $15 million annually.