TAYLORSVILLE — It's a phrase often heard when police detectives talk about their investigations: "We're waiting on results from the State Crime Lab."
Jay Henry, the State Crime Lab's director, says that's about to change with the completion of Utah's new $41 million, 90,000-square-foot facility this winter.
"The faster they can get results for their criminal investigations, the quicker and better they can resolve their cases," Henry said. "Their turnaround time for their evidence will be quicker, faster and more efficient."
The new Utah State Crime Lab is currently under construction at 4431 S. 2700 West, next to the Cal Rampton Building where the Department of Public Safety and the current crime lab is headquartered. The new facility will replace the current facility, which was built in 1980.
Right now, the Utah State Crime Lab has different specialties spread across northern Utah. The ballistics testing area, for example, is currently done in Ogden.
Once the new facility is completed, all disciplines of the State Crime Lab will be moved back under one roof. In addition, the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office and the Department of Agriculture will share lab space in the same building.
The result, Henry said, will be more efficient and quicker testing of evidence.
"What this facility does, it increases our capacity and makes us more efficient, and it allows for a safer environment for employees to work," he said. "It also consolidates our firearms laboratory from the northern part of the state back to the central lab. It provides us with some crime scene processing bays and trace evidence rooms. And we do it in a combined facility."
Henry said he expects employees to start moving into the new facility by December or January and for the building to be fully up and running by next spring.
On Tuesday, in conjunction with National Forensic Science Week, Henry gave the media a first look at the facility.
"This kind of represents the future of forensic science in Utah. This is just kind of a glimpse," he said.
Each room of the new crime lab is being built for a specific purpose. For example, one area will be exclusively for chemistry, another will be dedicated to robotics DNA testing, another to trace sampling, and so on.
"We're to the point that we've outgrown our structure we're in, and most laboratories weren't purpose-built. They were office buildings that were kind of made into laboratories," Henry said.
The new State Crime Lab is being constructed for that purpose, he said, with "adequate ventilation and adequate gas lines, electrical (and) DNA networking services."
"Plus, there's extra capacity here so there's room in the future to grow," Henry said.
During Tuesday's tour, Henry showed off the area where robotics DNA will take place, noting that once that's up in running, the State Crime Lab will be able to test DNA samples faster and with less room for error. There will also be more "hands-off" applications, he said.
"Technology is allowing us to do more with less. So now you have robotic systems that actually handle the specimen, add the chemical (and) extract the DNA," Henry said.
The State Crime Lab is in the process of hiring an additional five DNA analysts, he said.
DNA and ballistics testing will benefit the most from the new building, Henry said. The state also plans to bring back the ballistics database with the new facility, something it stopped doing about five years ago. The new ballistics range will be able to test up to .50-caliber rounds.
The extra space will also help lab technicians process the backlog of state rape kits more efficiently. As of Tuesday, Henry said the lab was about one-third of the way through the state's backlog of 2,700 kits.
Rooms dedicated to trace evidence, such as hair fibers, blood and paint, as well as a secure, contamination-free, two-bay garage large enough to hold RVs, will be new additions that the current crime lab doesn't have.
The chemistry area, already one of the most efficient in the nation, will be made safer with an advanced ventilation system. Henry said lab technicians are sometimes asked to work with hazardous materials.
But one of the biggest advantages of the new building and putting all 45 employees under one roof will be the improved continuity of the process, he said.
"When you have a purpose-built facility and … you're operating at maximum efficiency with extra capacity and technology, you're going to see better turnaround times for evidence in court," Henry said.