Detroit — Michigan State Police announced plans Thursday for a statewide Forensic Evidence Academy, a facility officials hope will help standardize crime scene investigations among police departments and accelerate evidence testing in the agency's backlogged crime laboratories.
The academy's 40-hour course will eventually be offered to law enforcement officers in 600 police agencies across Michigan in 2013, said John M. Collins, executive director of the state police forensic science division.
State police crime labs process evidence — from drunken driving cases to murder investigations — used in Michigan state courts.
"We are very excited about this program, and we are going to test drive it with our (state police) command sergeants beginning in August," said Collins. "We expect there will be some things that need to be ironed out, but our hope is that this will help in evidence case management and prioritizing evidence being sent to labs for tests."
Collins noted that labs — which process about 80,000 cases annually — face a backlog of 9,490 cases, covering such disciplines as biology, controlled substances, firearms, fingerprints, questioned documents and trace evidence.
That has resulted in a backlog of up to 158 days in testing of firearms, 126 days for DNA and an average of 56 days when factoring in other evidence that awaits testing.
Collins said that is too long; his goal is a "30-day turnaround."
Collins said standardizing forensic evidence collection around the state will help in that effort because police who have gone through the new academy will have a better idea of how to prioritize evidence that needs to be tested from a crime scene, rather than submitting additional materials along with requests.
The program will have four hours of required classroom attendance. The rest of the training will be through webinars or online classes, Collins said.
"In this day and age, it's difficult to send someone off to school and have them drive somewhere and sit around in a classroom," he said.
"You have to free them up for their duties and often pay someone else overtime to cover for them. This will eliminate much of that."
Collins said the academy will be of low or no cost to police agencies through a federal grant for programs that standardize law enforcement training.
Last year, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard introduced a free three-day training program for area law enforcement agencies in basic crime scene processing. So far, 157 officers and deputies from five agencies have been trained.