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Monroe County’s new crime lab goes high tech and green

The newly built Monroe County Crime Lab on the corner of Broad Street and Plymouth Avenue in Rochester. Vasiliy Baziuk

Bringing the crime scene to the forensic work station is just one of the features of the new Monroe County Crime Laboratory, set to open in April.

Using SmartBoards — a combination screen and computer — technicians will be able to evaluate crime scenes from their labs using digital images projected onto the interactive boards.

It is all high tech and reminiscent of television crime shows, but Lab Administrator Janet L. Anderson-Seaquist said the focus is on the science.

A new science that will be used in the lab is computer forensics — the evaluation of evidence found in computers, cell phones, GPS systems and devices that store digital information.

Monroe County employees cannot wait to move from the fifth floor of the Public Safety Building to the new four-story lab at the corner of Broad Street and Plymouth Avenue.

About a dozen joined Anderson-Seaquist on Tuesday for a monthly lunch-hour tour to check out the progress.

“It’s spectacular,” said George Kampo, forensic biologist who will be working in the third floor DNA screening room.

Kampo is impressed with the amount of space and the way the lab is structured to provide a more systematic flow of evidence as it is evaluated, moving from one section to another.

“Compared to the other labs I’ve been in, the flow of the labs are really thought out,” he said. “It’s a very inviting environment to work in.”

Ellyn Colquhoun, a DNA technician, also loves the space and the ability to move around more easily.

“I don’t think I can wait to get out of that old lab,” she said.

The tours start at the top because, as Anderson-Seaquist explained, that is how the work progressed to generate less dust. Housed on the fourth floor are forensic firearms and toolmarks labs where workers will evaluate firearms, casings and the resulting marks left when a bullet or other projectile is fired through a weapon chamber.

Using microscopes and other scientific instruments in state-of-the-art work spaces, the technicians will try to match the pieces of evidence to a crime. For instance, they may determine that a bullet recovered from a crime scene matches a particular weapon which can help determine the shooter.

“Rochester, for some reason, seems to be a very high gun area,” Anderson-Seaquist said, noting the new lab will help her team process cases more quickly and work its way through a backlog of 1,500.
Included with the firearms lab is a firing range to test firearms and a reference room to compare weapons.

A new service the lab, which will be renamed from the Monroe County Public Safety Laboratory, will offer is evaluation of latent prints which law enforcement agencies have been sending to other regional labs or the state lab in Albany for processing.

The new lab will continue to also serve Monroe’s seven surrounding counties: Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

The forensic biology lab, where technicians will process DNA and serology samples, is on the third floor along with offices. The high-tech lab allows for the evaluation of highly sensitive or small samples of DNA in the polymerase chain reaction section.

Administrative offices are housed on the second floor which also contains the controlled substance and trace analysis areas, along with a high-density storage room for case files. The secure chemical evaluation storage area is designed to federal Drug Enforcement Agency standards.

The first floor features a secure drive-in area where law enforcement can pull in their vehicles into a bay area where a garage door will close behind for secure transport into the laboratory which includes another bay with a lift to examine vehicles for evidence.

Anderson-Seaquist said the procedures for evaluating crime evidence will remain the same, but her staff will be able to do so more efficiently in the new lab. One of the biggest changes, she said, will be the flow of evidence which will be more organized.

“The work that will come out of this building will help the community,” Anderson-Seaquist said, noting the highly trained staff is also a major asset.

“With their talent and the facilities, I think they’ll be able to accomplish some great things,” she said, adding that each takes continuing education has annual proficiency testing.

The lab is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Not only does the lab feature the latest technology, the building itself is an architectural wonder striving to achieve platinum LEED — the highest green standard in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Anderson-Seaquist said it has a storm drainage tank which collects storm water from the roof, treats it and recycles it to flush toilets. She said the concrete is pervious to allow surface water to drain through.

The project was done in conjunction with the FBI which Anderson-Seaquist said helped with buying some equipment and providing training. Investigators will be able to use the new facilities.

The $15 million building consists of 45,000 square feet designed by DeWolf Partnership Architects. The main contractor is The Pike Co. of Rochester.