This time next year, Jacksonville State University’s Center for Applied Forensics will likely be the only accredited forensic entity in the state for crime scene analysis thanks to a $34,179 federal grant.
“When I applied for the Coverdell grant in April there were no other forensic entities accredited,” center Director Mark Hopwood said Monday flipping through paperwork about the grant.
The money, distributed from the Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Grants Program to state agencies, will be administered to the center by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Hopwood said.
The Coverdell Program specifically states that grant recipients must use the money to “improve forensic services,” Hopwood said. Last year, the center received money from the program for the first time.
“We bought evidence tracking equipment with the money last year,” Hopwood said, specifying that the money was used for the evidence software and a server. “This year it will be used to pay for the accreditation application and expenses. We’ll also be buying new cameras.”
The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences will also receive about $93,000 from the grant, according to a list of grantees published by the National Institute of Justice, the agency that runs the Coverdell Program.
“The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences plans to utilize the funds to reduce forensic case backlogs,” according to the award description.
The department is the only agency in Alabama that provides a “full-service laboratory system,” and the biggest backlogs are in drug testing and autopsy reports which has caused delays in court, according to the National Institute of Justice.
“These court delays can be in excess of 180 days in some extreme cases,” according to the description.
Last year the Department of Justice announced that within five years department-run forensic agencies must obtain and maintain accreditation and will require all department prosecutors to use accredited labs, Hopwood said. Both the director and forensic scientist Shane Golden are individually certified by several national agencies, but “it was time to get the facility accredited,” Hopwood said.
“There are two parts of the forensic world,” he said. “You’ve got your brick and mortar labs and then the boots on the ground side. We’re going to be accredited for the field work part.”
Hopewood noted that while they have a lab where they do some drug testing and fingerprint processing, it’s the actual collection of evidence that he is focused on for the accreditation process.
“You’re best evidence comes from the scene,” he said. “In order for ADFS to do their best work, we have to give them ours. Quality forensics starts at the scene.”