As pandemic continues, Ky. state police lab adapts to new normal

Although less staff can be present inside the facility, officials say analysts are completing more case than they did this time last year


James Mayse
Messenger-Inquirer

FRANKFORT, Ky. — When the coronavirus pandemic began shuttering businesses, the Kentucky State Police laboratories in Frankfort and across the state had to figure out how to continue working.

The labs process crime evidence for KSP investigators, and for police and sheriff’s departments, so the lab was considered an essential service. The work has continued, although with staff working alternating schedules to keep the number of people in the labs below 50% at any given time.

“We’ve had to comply with the 50% rule, along with all the state offices,” said Laura Sudkamp, KSP’s lab director.

The labs have 140 employees statewide. Sudkamp said when government offices were ordered to reduce staff working on-site, KSP instituted a system where analysts work three days in the lab and two days at home, followed by a week of two days at the lab and three days at home.

Sudkamp said analysts perform testing on the days in the lab and then work on the results while at home.

“Believe it or not, and I believe it’s because the courts are closed, we are completing more cases than we did last year,” Sudkamp said. Part of that is because analysts aren’t testifying at trials on their findings, which can take an analyst out of the lab for an extended period of time, she said.

While law enforcement agencies often deliver evidence to the labs, that was suspended for several weeks. The only evidence accepted had to be mailed or delivered by an agency such as Federal Express.

The decline in new evidence coming in allowed analysts to work on their backlog of cases, Sudkamp said.

“We have been working through that backlog and making a big dent,” Sudkamp said. The lab began taking evidence directly from law enforcement agencies again last week, but they must make appointments and are limited to 30-minute appointments each, Sudkamp said.

“Your big agencies — Louisville, Lexington, Covington and Paducah — have come in and dumped (evidence), but at a lower level than we would have received this time last year,” Sudkamp. That seems to be, in part, because certain types of crime are down due to the pandemic.

For example, “you don’t have as many (home) burglaries, because you don’t know who is home,” Sudkamp said.

Evidence from drug investigations also seems to be down, she said.

The lab received 40% less evidence last week when it started taking in-person deliveries than it received during the same week last year, Sudkamp said.

“Now, we are waiting to see if there are other agencies that couldn’t come in last week” with evidence, she said.

Lab officials are evaluating the techniques they’ve used to keep working during the pandemic to see if “it’s something that could be used in the future” once the need for social distancing has passed.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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