D.C. gets state-of-the-art crime lab

The D.C. area is getting a look into a new state-of-the-art crime lab. It houses several public safety, forensic science, and health “investigators,” all under one roof—in hopes of cracking crimes faster.

The building will house experts handling the district’s most sensitive cases—from murder to bioterrorism cases. Before now, D.C.’s crime experts were spread across various buildings—sometimes in different cities.

Chances are, the only time you'll see crime investigation rooms like these ones are on TV or the big screen. But, this is the district's very own "consolidated forensic laboratory."

The 351,000 sq. foot building on E Street southwest was designed with one primary goal for crime and medical investigators.

“To bring them into one new facility and really change the way they interact with one another,” said Brian Hanlon, D.C.’s Department of General Services Director.

DNA, firearms, fingerprint and trace evidence experts—once housed in different buildings are now becoming roommates—alongside D.C.’s Public Health Laboratory, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Metropolitan Police Department’s crime-scene units.

“Let's say a suspicious death comes in. Maybe there's a question of poisoning or infectious disease. Well now we have the medical examiner, we have toxicology, we have the crime lab and we have the public health lab all in the same space that can work off the same evidence at the same time,” said Max Houck, the Department of Forensic Sciences Director.

There's also space for learning.

“We can have an audience that doesn't have to be gowned up, doesn't have to be in personal protective equipment, view an autopsy, see how it's done,” Houck said.

On another floor, there is a shooting range, where forensic firearms examiners will put their evidence to the test. At the same time, samples taken into other parts of the building will be screened for public health concerns, ranging from salmonella to the West Nile virus.

“To have everybody in the same space is fabulous because we all speak the same language: Science,” Houck said.

This new space came didn't come for free. It cost $200 million—money funded largely by the D.C. government—taxpayer dollars.

Eventually, police will no longer collect crime scene evidence. That will be handled solely by the Department of Forensic Sciences, which reports to the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice.
Officers will instead concentrate on gathering witness testimony—tracking down suspects—the non-science aspects of the investigation.