Hudson~Litchfield News Gets Firsthand Experience in State Police Forensic Lab
November 20, 2015
by Doug Robinson
Ever wonder just where does all that heroin goes that we have been hearing about? Or, is it true that the NH State Lab is 250 police cases in arrears? And, how do they perform all those law enforcement tasks that are required by lawyers, courts, prosecutors, and police departments?
Recently, the HLN was invited to tag along with New Hampshire’s United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen during a behind-the-scenes visit to the NH State Police Forensic Lab in Concord.
The purpose of Shaheen’s (D-NH) visit, as stated by her press secretary, was “to discuss the backlog of seized heroin and fentanyl that require lab identification.” The visit was in preparation for legislation to the U.S. Senate that would authorize “$10 million per year through the Community Oriented Policing Services program to be used for police forensic lab staff, equipment and overtime to help labs deal with the backlog.”
The New Hampshire’s forensic lab has the ability with their current staff and equipment to process approximately 500 cases per month. However, NH police agencies have been requesting upwards of 750 monthly requests.
“The State Police Forensic Laboratory is the sole provider of traditional forensic laboratory services in New Hampshire. The forensic laboratory routinely receives and analyzes evidence from over 220 city and town police departments, nine state law enforcement agencies including the State Police, 10 county sheriff’s departments, numerous city and town fire departments, and, on occasion, federal law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations in the state” states the NH State Police.
Hudson Police Captain Willian Lavoie commented, “In my 25 years with the Hudson Police Department, the NH State Lab has been nothing but professional and helpful to the Hudson Police. They have never missed a prosecution date, and they have always been cooperative and professional with us.”
Laboratory Director Timothy J. Pifer stated, “Normally we have 50 employees working here, but we are operating with 47 now. We need more help. With the possibility of receiving a grant, we will be able to hire more people, purchase equipment that costs around $125,000, and get caught up with our work overload.”
The services offered by the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory include firearms/tool marks, latent impression, DNA, serology, digital evidence, trace, controlled-substance examinations, and blood and breath alcohol testing as well as the analysis of controlled substances in urine, blood and other biological samples.
The highly skilled chemists and trained personnel work meticulously as they examine every piece of evidence with exactly rules and regulation regarding safety and chain of custody. Specific steps have been established to authenticate their findings. And, at times, these same technicians are called upon by both the prosecution and defense teams to testify in court to their findings.
Pifer explained that approximately one third of the current requests involve marijuana, another third heroin, while 24 percent are fentanyl investigations.
Hundreds of urine test kits, received from court orders, paroled inmates, inmates, drug court defendants, lined cart after cart, as they awaited examination from the technicians. Using pipettes, protective clothing, eyewear, and gloves, all motions are methodical and exact.
Reports, as high as several inches, print continually, as they indicate the results of the investigative studies. While chemists work hands-on to weigh, view under a microscope, analyze using graphs and images, other technicians are evaluating those piles of paper to determine the exact contents of the material for which they are investigating.
Sen. Shaheen commented, “The work done in this facility is indispensable in our state’s battle with the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic. This testing backlog can delay law enforcement efforts to get dangerous criminals and drug traffickers off our streets. It’s critical that the federal government respond to the needs of law enforcement on the frontlines of this crisis.”
She continued, “The recent surge in the use of heroin, fentanyl and other “designer” drugs, has increased both the volume and complexity of identifying narcotics, which has dramatically increased demand on police crime labs, including in New Hampshire. As a result, police crime labs have been inundated with requests for testing, often exceeding lab capacity and creating backlogs of untested samples.”