SHSU Regional Crime Lab Now Open

March 4, 2010
SHSU Media Contacts: Julia May


Forensic scientist Jennifer Bourgeois is one of the staff working with blood evidence at SHSU's new Regional Crime Laboratory in The Woodlands.

The Sam Houston State University Regional Crime Laboratory which will serve the basic needs of nearly 100 state and local law enforcement agencies from the ten counties surrounding Huntsville is now open, according to university officials.

Equipment, personnel and resources are in place that will allow the laboratory, located in The Woodlands, to begin working towards accreditation, at which time it can start accepting evidence in criminal cases.

University officials anticipate the lab may provide forensic services in as many as 5,000 to 6,000 criminal investigations annually. The lab will also perform death investigation casework for medical examiners and provide other analytical and testimonial services to clients.

The major function of the lab will be the identification of seized drugs and toxicology analysis. Services will be provided by almost a dozen full-time forensic scientists and support staff and will offer intern opportunities to forensic science students at SHSU.

U. S. Congressman Kevin Brady was instrumental in securing funding from Congress for the crime lab.

“Law enforcement officials and agencies in smaller communities experience long waits and backlogs when requesting services from crime labs in major cities,” he said. “The regional crime lab will give local law enforcement in surrounding counties new tools to help better protect the communities they serve.”

Positioning the laboratory with an academic institution has many precedents, but above all demonstrates the independent integrity of the forensic examinations that are relied upon so heavily within the courts, according to Vincent Webb, dean of the SHSU College of Criminal Justice and director of the George J. Beto Criminal Justice Center.

“The College and Center constitute one of the nation’s largest programs focused on criminal justice and related areas including an accredited graduate-level program in forensic science,” Webb said.

The forensic science program is operated jointly with the College of Arts and Sciences and offers concentrations in toxicology, DNA, trace evidence and physical science.

“In addition to offering a variety of degree programs at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels, the College and Center have several institutes that serve practitioners in law enforcement and corrections through training, research and technical assistance,” Webb said.

“One of these, the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, serves law enforcement agencies throughout the state and through its excellent relationships with the law enforcement community will play a major role in developing sustainability strategies for the crime lab,” he said.

Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, who has been responsible for developing and coordinating the graduate forensic science program at SHSU, is a forensic toxicologist and will serve as laboratory director. She oversaw the operation of a government forensic laboratory in New Mexico that provided services to the Office of the Medical Investigator in addition to state, federal and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the state before coming to SHSU.

SHSU has occupied the facility where the lab is located since October 2009 and has been in the process of purchasing and installing laboratory equipment and setting up the lab. Laboratory personnel have also been recruited and hired.

The 5,000 square-foot facility was previously a biotechnology lab and already had most of the structural and mechanical features required for a crime lab. Sam Houston State is leasing the facility for now and plans to move the operation to the university in the future.

University officials are in the process of laboratory accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors-Lab Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB) and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Once accreditation is in place the lab can start receiving criminal casework and help alleviate the burden of excessive caseloads in other regional crime labs.

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