NY crime lab improves efficiency with 'Lean Six Sigma' process

The Monroe County Crime Lab has not only significantly streamlined case-work, but now projects to process 400 percent more cases by the end of 2013


If someone said you could increase the efficiency of your jurisdiction’s crime lab by 200 percent, you’d probably initiate an investigation into possible illegal use of controlled substances. 

Luckily for investigators in the area surrounding Rochester (NY), when Sorenson Forensics offered the opportunity to make just such an improvement, the Crime Lab decided to give it a shot.

Since implementing the principles of “Lean Manufacturing” and “Six Sigma” processes, the Monroe County Crime Lab has not only significantly streamlined case-work, but now projects to process 400 percent more cases by the end of 2013.

Speed and Accuracy
Monroe County — a beautiful but busy swath of the northern tier of western New York State set on the southern shore of Lake Ontario — is not unlike any county in America. That is to say, criminal cases involving DNA analysis can get backlogged, causing delays which frustrate just about everyone in the chain of evidence (including the DNA analysts).

Seeking to eliminate backlog, decrease turn-around time on cases, and, increase the overall quality of crime lab reports, the Monroe County Crime Lab turned to Sorenson Forensics, the first accredited forensics laboratory to offer the Lean Six Sigma consulting services for DNA labs.

Sorenson Forensics began adapting the lean Six Sigma principles to forensic procedures in 2008, and uses the methodologies of both Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma to effect performance improvements, efficiency improvements, and quality improvements.

• “Lean Manufacturing” — A methodology to understand process value ‘from the viewpoint of the customer’ and to eliminate waste — any activities which don’t add value. It is intended to throughput and create a continuous flow of value-adding activities without adding additional resources.
• “Six Sigma” — Developed by Motorola in the mid-1980s Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology to better understand process variation and process capability with the ultimate objective of 99.99966% defect-free performance improvement. In English, that means that by measuring data points in a process, a Six Sigma organization aims for 3.4 defects per million opportunities to produce a defect. Basically, the target is perfection.

When combined, Lean and Six Sigma together are complimentary, eliminating variation, defects and waste while creating continuous, value-add flow.

After experiencing success internally, Sorenson began consulting other forensics agencies to achieve similar results. Sorenson instructed Monroe County Crime Lab personnel in Lean Six Sigma principles during August and September 2012, and soon thereafter the lab saw measurable improvements.

“By applying the Lean Six Sigma principles to forensic science, Sorenson Forensics has helped us significantly streamline case work reviews,” said Ellyn Colquhoun, DNA Technical Leader for Monroe County Crime Laboratory.

Lean Six Sigma can increase any time of sample handled by the crime lab. When Lean Six Sigma is first implemented, it is usually applied in the section with the worst backlog, such as DNA or toxicology. Then, over time, it is rolled-out into other sections of the lab, such as latent prints, drug analysis, and the like.

“We have been extremely impressed by how drastically efficiency has improved in just a few months,” Colquhoun said.

Repeatable Elsewhere
“The results that labs like Monroe have experienced are replicable in every crime laboratory across the nation,” Sorenson Forensics Executive Laboratory Director Tim Kupferschmid explained.

“By improving these efficiencies, we are helping labs get through their caseloads more quickly and accurately, while becoming more cost efficient,” Kupferschmid said. “We are committed to offering superior consulting services that help labs throughout the nation operate as optimally as possible.”

Sorenson Forensics is first accredited forensics laboratory to offer Lean Six Sigma consulting services, and their first partner in that effort was the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab DNA Section.

Kupferschmid explained, “We started a project there in 2010. Since that time, they’ve increased the productivity of that lab by 1000 percent, completely eliminated their backlog’ and assists investigators with DNA results within days. We have worked in other labs in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic areas as well.”

For example, after Sorenson worked with Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences DNA Section — also in New York — the lab was able to reduce case processing time by nearly 50 percent, and increased productivity equivalent to adding an additional analyst.

“A Lean Six Sigma process, when effectively implemented into a crime laboratory, results in a dramatic decrease in turn-around-time and the elimination of the existing backlog,” Kupferschmid concluded.

“Thus, forensic investigators will get results from a crime lab in days or weeks rather than months or years. This will assist them in the real-time investigation of crimes.”

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 800 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA). Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

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