By Peter Bodley-ABC Newspapers
Erchal Springer has been named permanent director of the Tri-County Regional Forensic Laboratory.
Springer had been interim director of the laboratory, which is located at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office and is a collaboration between Anoka, Sherburne and Wright counties, since Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Johnson retired as director in 2011.
The action to name Springer permanent director came at the Anoka County Board’s March 12 meeting on the recommendation of Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.
According to Stuart, an experienced scientist with advanced laboratory management experience is needed to not only oversee the operations of the regional forensic laboratory, but to further assist in the ongoing set-up and development of all the forensic disciplines and through the laboratory accreditation process.
When Johnson retired, it was determined that a civilian scientist with advanced experience in laboratory management should be brought on board as soon as possible, Stuart said.
Stuart contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to see if it knew someone who would be qualified to take on the laboratory director’s responsibilities, he said.
The BCA recommended Springer, who had recently retired after more than 37 years of experience in the forensic field at the BCA, where his position prior to retirement was assistant laboratory director of the BCA overseeing 85 employees and the laboratory operations, Stuart said.
“I met with Erchal and was able to coax him out of retirement,” he said.
Springer was hired as a temporary employee and interim laboratory director in July 2011.
“He has been extremely beneficial to our operations and our ongoing process and success in meeting the milestones as set forth in the joint point agreement with Wright and Sherburne counties,” Stuart said.
There are a limited number of qualified candidates that meet the requirements of the laboratory director position, he said.
Springer is one of them, has been fulfilling the needs very successfully as a temporary employee and is willing to continue in the laboratory director position in a permanent role, Stuart said.
“Erchal has been an amazing hire,” he said. “We could not have found anyone better.”
“He has the experience we need to bring a fledgling lab to accreditation.”
As the lab moves toward national accreditation, which Stuart hopes will be approved this fall, it has been hiring forensic scientists to fill positions for its three disciplines.
Those are drug chemistry (toxicology), latent prints testing and DNA.
At least three forensic scientists are needed in each discipline, not only to prevent case backlogs, but also to have a peer review process in place, which is required for accreditation, according to Stuart.
“We need to have at least two forensic scientists on duty in each discipline all the time,” Stuart said.
In May 2012, the Anoka County Board agreed to move up to 2012 the forensic scientist hires that had been planned for 2013.
Right now, both the drug chemistry and DNA disciplines are staffed with three forensic scientists, while final hire to bring the latent prints discipline up to three is imminent, he said.
While the Tri-County lab’s priority is do turnaround forensic testing for violent crimes in short order – it recently received a letter of appreciation from the city of Elk River for completing testing in one day for one of its cases – the lab does not neglect forensic testing on property crimes, as some labs do, according to Stuart.
“We are solving more crimes that way,” Stuart said.
The DNA testing function at the lab is not fully operational yet because not all of the needed instrumentation is in place, he said.
That has to happen before the lab can earn the national accreditation through the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) it is seeking, Stuart said.
“It is a long drawn-out process,” he said.
ASCLD/LAB is the oldest and most well known crime/forensic laboratory accrediting body in the world, according to its website.
It has been accrediting crime laboratories since 1982 and currently accredits most of the federal, state and local crime laboratories in the United States plus forensic laboratories in six countries outside of the United States, the website states.
Besides the forensic scientists and Springer, the crime lab also employs a quality assurance manager and two intake evidence technicians.
The Tri-County Regional Forensic Laboratory was created in February 2008 through a joint powers agreement signed by Anoka, Sherburne and Wright counties.
Editor’s note: Peter Bodley is managing editor of ABC Newspapers. Peter Bodley is at [email protected]