Innovation Fund Helps Improve Outcomes in Baltimore's Crime Lab


In recognition of National Forensic Science Week (September 17-23, 2017), watch Steve O'Dell and others explain how the City's Innovation Fund allowed them to upgrade camera equipment and transition Crime Lab Technicians to a digital case management system: 

About the Baltimore City Crime Lab

The Baltimore City Forensic Sciences and Evidence Management Division of the Police Department, aka the Crime Lab, has expanded to nine, state-of-the-art accredited laboratories. Hailed as being one of the best in the country, the Crime Lab works to provide the most accurate and efficient forensics information available.

As discussed in the video, Forensics Chief Steve O’Dell and his team have a strong record of using innovation to make strides in Crime Lab performance.  Since taking over leadership of the lab in 2014, Chief O'Dell has implemented projects that are pushing the boundaries of what is currently being done in the field.  “A lot of what we do is cutting edge. We implemented a 360 degree laser-scanner for extremely accurate documentation of crime scenes,” says O’Dell. “This is an instrument that captures imagery & exact measurements. It starts to get into ‘virtual reality’ because ultimately, we can recreate an entire scene that we otherwise may not have otherwise been able to accurately visualize." 

From being able to more accurately simplify complex, genetic material, to changing the way the department goes about their processes, the advances that the BPD Forensics Division is making are crucial for identifying victims, proving innocence, identifying offenders, and most importantly, finding patterns. New technology enabled Chief O’Dell’s team to identify hundreds of ‘hits’, or forensic information that relates to prior cases, and identify sources previously unknown. 

The Innovation Fund has supported several of the Crime Lab’s landmark projects.  One project, Megapixel Madness, converted the use of film photography to digital in crime scenes and with evidence.  Chief O’Dell raved, “This digitization of crime scene work has saved an excess of $100,000 in hard dollars and has improved efficiency in operations.”  Another project was the Baltimore Forensic Institute of Training and Innovation (BFITI).  Established in 2015, BFITI has enabled O’Dell and his team to train others, as well as work for outside agencies. When asked about the Crime Lab’s role at BFITI, O’Dell says, “We’ve hosted several professional classes, such as Bloodstain Pattern Analysis I and II, Shooting Reconstruction, Latent Print Analysis, Firearms Analysis, Crime Scene Photography, etc.  Aside from generating revenue from these events, we are professionally developing our employees- so it has had two sided benefits.” 

In addition, the acquirement of a Next Generation Sequencer in DNA using an Innovation Fund grant was a notable project for the Crime Lab because it opened the door for a research partnership with Central Florida University. The Crime Lab recently landed two additional contracts, one for the review of missing persons DNA cases and one with Johns Hopkins University on Fentanyl testing.  While many Innovation projects are still in their early stages, the amount of work conducted thus far has been able to show the Lab’s potential to do some significant good for the Forensics field. 

Chief O’Dell also took advantage of the BBMR-initiated Lean Government program and adheres to the principles of Outcome Budgeting.  Chief O’Dell and his team members are Lean Government trained.  Each year, BBMR recognizes city services that are exemplary in transparency, innovation, and the implementation of cost-saving innovations; the Crime Lab was BBMR’s winner for having the Most Innovative budget proposal in 2017.  Chief O’Dell explained the achievements of his division: “…our aggressive pursuit of innovation and sustainability is the driving factor of our success.  Hire the right people, given them direction, and let them run!” 

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