Criminal Justice Update
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Criminal Justice Update

Q&A: BCI Lab Director Emphasizes Quality, Efficiency

Karen Kwek had been a member of the lab team at the Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation for 14 years when she was named BCI’s laboratory director in late spring. She oversees 150 staff members and an ultramodern lab that law enforcement and prosecutors around the state rely on for fast, accurate evidence analysis.

On how BCI labs maintain superior quality
BCI’s three labs — in London, Richfield, and Bowling Green — have been accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board since 2002. We underwent our third assessment last year and were granted international accreditation. ASCLD/LAB offers an internationally recognized set of quality system requirements to which each of the labs must adhere. Along with annual internal audits and targeted operational reviews, this helps us ensure the labs provide top-quality forensic services. For example in DNA, each report is seen by three people before it gets mailed out.
On ensuring lab processes are first rate
All of the procedures we use in testing evidence have been published in international, national, or regional standards; by reputable technical organizations; in relevant scientific textbooks or journals; or specified by the equipment manufacturer. The labs validate any new or nonstandard procedures using an extensive process prior to use.
On the expertise of the staff
We take great pride in the quality of our work. All BCI forensic scientists hold bachelor’s degrees in one of the natural sciences and several have advanced degrees. All undergo a rigorous internal training program that includes extensive method competency testing and covers courtroom presentation, forensic science ethics, and more prior to testing evidence. They continue their professional development through external training and participation in professional organizations. Each scientist also completes at least two proficiency tests annually.
On the significant drop in turnaround times
Lab turnaround times have decreased dramatically in recent years. The DNA turnaround time dropped from 125.5 days in December 2010 to 23.82 days in August 2013. Over the same time period, the Chemistry Unit’s times fell from 42.85 days to 11.96 days.
The improvements truly are a reflection of the dedication and professionalism of a strong team. Attorney General DeWine provided the resources to hire more scientists and to purchase new instruments while the BCI administration assisted in streamlining processes. The entire lab staff worked extremely hard to implement this approach.
I recently attended a meeting of lab directors from around the country and felt very proud that we have an administration that supports the forensic lab wholeheartedly and believes in the importance of quality and turnaround times. It’s very difficult to compare the turnaround times of BCI and other labs because the way labs define their times varies greatly. For instance, BCI measures its turnaround time from the moment of submission to the time a report is administratively approved. Another lab may not start counting its time until an analyst begins work on a case. By any measure, law enforcement agencies will be pleased with the turnaround times BCI provides.
On the value of BCI lab services to Ohio communities
The importance of forensic science in the investigation and prosecution of crime has increased dramatically in recent years. However, it’s cost-prohibitive and unfeasible for law enforcement agencies in most Ohio communities to build and maintain a staff of highly trained scientists and acquire the technology necessary for a state-of-the-art forensic lab. That’s why the Attorney General ensures BCI can provide a full range of quality forensic services, at easily accessible locations, and at no charge to our customers. Because of our turnaround times, the quality of our work, and the fact that we provide analysis at no cost to local law enforcement, we’ve had an additional 46 agencies come to us for testing in the past couple years.
On the advantages of a BCI lab under construction at BGSU
The very fact that we will be located on the Bowling Green State University campus is tremendously exciting. The opportunities to do collaborative research in the field of forensic science are limitless. There’s so much research and development that can go on, which can help our processes. But we’re not a research lab; we have a job to do. BCI’s forensic scientists are always ready with ideas and proposals to improve methodologies, and we hope the university will collaborate on these endeavors with us and also be a source for interns and potential staff. A lot can come of these collaborative efforts. These are exciting times.
The Karen Kwek File
Previous positions: Kwek joined BCI as a forensic scientist in 1999 and was named lab supervisor for drug chemistry, trace evidence, and evidence receiving in 2005, London lab manager in 2011, and to her current position in June. She previously worked as a forensic scientist examining trace evidence at Toronto’s Center of Forensic Sciences and as a university research associate in chemistry in Strasbourg, France.
Early life and education: Originally from Singapore, she earned a bachelor of science with honors and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Family: She and her husband, Greg Wong, have a 14-year-old daughter.
Favorite pastimes: She enjoys tennis, cycling, and being a “golf mom.”