From a one-chemist operation established in 1937 at Austin's Camp Mabry, the Crime Laboratory has developed into a laboratory system with labs at 13 different locations across the state of Texas. Crime Lab personnel provide a variety of services to law enforcement agencies in the investigation of crimes and are nationally known for their abilities in forensic science (the evaluation and examination of evidence collected at the scene of a crime) and criminalistics (the science of recognizing, identifying, individualizing, and evaluating physical evidence by the application of natural science to law-science matters).
Standard areas of analysis include criminalistics or trace evidence (i.e., hair, fibers, paint, glass, gunshot residue, shoe prints, tire impressions, etc.), biological evidence/DNA, drugs, blood alcohol, firearms and toolmarks, toxicology, latent fingerprints, questioned documents, digital/multimedia evidence, and specialized photographic requests. While all of these types of analysis are available through the Headquarters Laboratory in Austin, services provided by the other 12 DPS laboratories are strategically arranged for optimal access and support to the criminal justice community. The Crime Laboratory strives to keep abreast of the latest techniques in these areas in order to provide timely and accurate results to law enforcement agencies requesting assistance. Crime Lab personnel's investigative capabilities are further enhanced by the integration and exchange of local, state, regional, and national information via individualizing databases, including AFIS (fingerprints), NIBIN (firearms), and CODIS (DNA).
The Crime Laboratory also includes the Forensic Breath Alcohol Laboratory responsible for calibration/certification of breath instruments for the State and for the preparation and certifying of reference standards for use in the calibration/certification program. There are 19 calibration sites strategically located across the State.
The overall goal of the Crime Laboratory is to provide expert forensic laboratory services to law enforcement agencies within Texas. These services include:
The DPS crime laboratories have been continuously accredited since 1986 through the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). Accreditation is part of a laboratory's quality assurance program, which includes proficiency testing, continuing education, customer liaison, and other programs to help the laboratory provide more effective overall service. In 2007, the Crime Laboratory underwent an assessment based on a new international program with ASCLD/LAB, which includes ISO 17025:2005 standards. Under these new standards, the on-site external assessment by ASCLD/LAB is very comprehensive. Every aspect of the laboratory's operation is carefully reviewed, including its management practices, surveys of customer satisfaction (customer liaison), evidence handling procedures, laboratory security procedures, training programs, proficiency testing, competency testing records, and testimony monitoring records. The assessment team reviews case files for each employee in the laboratory to ensure that laboratory procedures are consistently being followed and that ASCLD/LAB-International and ISO 17025 requirements are being consistently met. The Texas DPS Crime Laboratory system is the largest state system that has undergone this level of accreditation.
The Crime Laboratory has approximately 279 forensic scientists and 83 support personnel. New Crime Lab employees are provided intensive training before being approved to examine evidence. The length of initial training depends on the forensic scientist's areas of analysis. Some areas of analysis—such as drugs—may take approximately four months, while other areas — such as firearms or questioned documents — may take 24 months. Forensic scientists assist peace officers with crime scene investigations, provide instruction at peace officer training seminars, analyze physical evidence in criminal cases, and present results of analyses in courtroom testimony.