Crime scene science

St. Charles County Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory handles over 2,000 cases annually and is accredited to meet international standards

By Brett Auten

The science behind solving a crime is trendier and more complicated than on television and in a film. 

The St. Charles County Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory is a small, but mighty, operation. The five-member staff handles over 2,000 cases annually. It is one of only five law enforcement agencies in the state to have crime lab and oftentimes works on cases from other municipalities as well as state and federal agencies.

Despite that epic workload, the department was recently recognized following a thorough examination of its management system, technical procedures and practices.

The St. Charles County Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory earned re-accreditation from the American National Standards Institute National Accreditation Board in the Field of Forensic Science Testing. It first earned accreditation in 2007 and is one of five crime lab systems in Missouri to meet international standards. 

St. Charles County Police Chief David Todd hailed the honor as a demonstration that the crime lab is among the best worldwide and while the crime lab may not make dramatic arrests out in the streets and alleyways, they certainly do their part. The department works closely with investigators and prosecutors to analyze and interpret evidence and give finishing through reports or testimony.

“By and large we’re nerds,” Laboratory Director Bryan Hampton said. “But there is nothing we truly enjoy more than trying to figure out a piece of evidence in a tough case and we get a satisfactory result.” 

The team includes Hampton, forensic scientists Brian Krey, Daniel Fahnestock, and Cassie Crabb along with laboratory clerk Amy Lesch. Each member of staff brings a unique skill set to the team as well as skilled versatility.

“There is a lot of cross training and wearing of multiple hats,” Hampton said. “It is a testament to their flexibility to be able out of their education or experience background often exceed the criteria acquired to reach accreditation.”

Hampton described the preparing for a full on-site accreditation assessment as intensive and time-consuming but that demonstrates the laboratory’s commitment to providing high-quality forensic testing and demonstrates a commitment to excellence. 

The accreditation applied to the forensic testing of firearms, seized drugs, toxicology, biology (DNA), and fire debris. DNA is one facet that has changed biological examinations and forensic laboratories drastically in the last 10-to-15 years and has afforded far more tools for the crime lab to become useful and much more diverse in the number of cases. The DNA revolution has allowed for a database to share information across the country.

The re-accreditation assessment consisted of extensive on- and off-site review of policies, procedures and casework files to prove its conformance with ANSI’s requirements. ANSI will perform annual surveillance activities of the SCCPDCL to ensure continuing conformance until the next full re-accreditation assessment in 2022.

Funded through sales tax dollars, state and federal grants, the St. Charles County Police Department Criminalistics Laboratory was established out of the need for a crime laboratory to serve the local law enforcement community. 

Forensic science is a continually evolving field and its popularity within the community has piqued the interest of a number of aspiring scientists looking for a specialty field. 

“It’s exciting to see the technology advance and change,” Hampton said. “It allows us to test more evidence quickly and learn more about the evidence. We’re fortunate to be a part of it.”