The Iowa Department of Public Safety is asking Iowa’s congressional delegates to speak out about a loss of federal funding for a regional forensics resource center that serves crime labs in 16 states, including Iowa.
The Midwest Forensics Resource Center, based in Ames, lost directed federal funding in 2010 and is running out of money to offer training, casework assistance and research for public crime labs, director David Baldwin said.
“In an extreme, they (crime labs) will have to stop processing some evidence” because training for specialties like gunshot residue will be too expensive for small labs, Baldwin said. “All you’ll ever do is DNA and drug analysis because those are the biggest areas.”
Public Safety Commissioner Brian London wrote a letter in July to Iowa’s two senators and four Congressmen asking them to support the resource center, which previously got most of its average $1.5 million annual operating budget from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).
Baldwin hopes the NIJ will continue to pay for some programs. The center is also seeking funding from other agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“We’re not going away, but it’s a lot more footwork to find all the pieces (of funding),” Baldwin said.
Even if the center finds agencies willing to pay for services, the federal budget sequester might eliminate or delay funding to the point Baldwin has to lay off staff, he said. The center has eight employees.
The MFRC started in 2002 at the Ames Laboratory, which is operated by Iowa State University on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. The resource center serves crime labs in Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Training offered includes crime scene reconstruction, basic courtroom testimony, bloodstain pattern analysis, footwear impression evidence, bugs and bones and shooting incident reconstruction. The center recruits trainers and provides workshops that can be attended by staff from 60 labs within the partner states.
“If you only have one or two people who have a specialty, it’s not cost effective to bring in an expert trainer for those people,” Baldwin said. “We were sharing the resources to satisfy that need.”
The center also connects crime lab staff with public university researchers who can help discover new investigation methods or system improvements that save time and money.
“When we were building our building, they helped us figure out how far outside the building our wireless conversations could be heard,” said Bruce Reeve, administrator of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab in Ankeny.
Reeve and other state lab directors learned about the cuts earlier this summer. He said the DCI has heard back from Congressional staff who said their bosses will talk with federal agencies in hopes of gaining more funding for the center.