August 16, 2012 at 1:00 am

Michigan crime lab chief resigns

He takes private job after helping to win state accreditation

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The head of the Michigan State Police forensic crimes division said Wednesday he's resigning less than a month after helping to win a coveted international accreditation for the department's seven crime labs.

When he took the state police labs job two years ago, John M. Collins inherited a backlog of thousands of cases across Michigan awaiting analysis. He also became responsible for labs that needed changes and attention to pass accreditation, plus the entire caseload of the shuttered Detroit police crime lab, including thousands of untested rape kits.

"I am leaving the Michigan State Police. It's entirely voluntary and I am leaving in excellent standing," he said in an email Wednesday.

Collins' ambitious, yet to-be realized goals included a "30-day turnaround" of lab evidence, and a forensic academy for law enforcement officers statewide. A state police spokeswoman could not be reached for comment Wednesday on how those plans may be affected.

It is not known if a replacement has been determined for Collins, who oversaw more than 200 employees and an annual budget of more than $30 million.

Collins will leave on Aug. 23 and start work on Sept. 17 with the RTI International, a forensic consulting group based in Raleigh., N.C.

RTI was awarded status as a Forensic Center of Excellence by the Department of Justice about a year ago, and Collins said he expects he will be involved in various aspects of work in the forensic industry, including crime lab management.

Collins, a Michigan native and 1992 Michigan State University graduate, came to the state police after spending a decade as director of the DuPage (Ill.) County crime lab.

He also was the first executive director of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, the same group that gave the Michigan State Police three accreditation extensions before final inspections last December that led to a new international testing accreditation last month.

Collins also previously worked for two years with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta, specializing in firearms evidence. In 1996 he was hired by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, where he worked for two years. He has conducted several accreditation inspections of crime laboratories across the United States, as well as in Malaysia and Hong Kong.

In June, Collins announced plans for a statewide Forensic Evidence Academy, which state officials hope will help standardize crime scene investigations among 600 police departments and accelerate evidence testing in the agency's crime laboratories. The 40-hour course is expected to be offered in 2013.

State police labs currently process about 80,000 cases a year but face a backlog of 9,490 cases in biology, drugs, firearms, fingerprints, questioned documents and trace evidence.

That has resulted in a backlog of up to 158 days in testing of firearms and 126 days for DNA.

Faster testing could help reduce delays in getting violent criminals off the street, law enforcement officers say.

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