Q&A: Forensic chief talks bullets, fingerprints, blood

Ann Talbot, 50, is the forensic laboratories bureau chief for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety in Santa Fe. Talbot holds her Bachelor of Science degrees in biology and chemistry and has been the lab’s bureau chief for nine months.

Clovis law enforcement officers send bullets, blood and fingerprints to the Santa Fe lab.

Q. Which police departments/government agencies do you serve.

A. All New Mexico State Police districts, local police or sheriff departments, tribal, federal, universities, etc. Between 100 to 110 agencies.

Q. How many samples do you receive annually on average?

A. Approximately 4,000 cases per year and 2,000 cases per laboratory. The requests for analysis are steadily increasing. Some of these cases have multiple items or “samples” depending on the complexity of the case, so the number of “samples” is much larger. As an example, one recent homicide case had more than 8,000 items of evidence.

Q. What kinds of evidence do you receive?

A. Evidence collected in criminal cases from persons or crime scenes. Any physical item which has potential biological or chemical evidence on or in it. Examples: Questioned controlled substances and illegal drugs, blood or body fluid stains from scenes, clothing, sexual assault evidence kits, firearms, ammunition, projectiles, casings, latent fingerprint lifts.

Q. What types of tests are performed?

A. There are basically four main disciplines in the NM-DPS Forensic Laboratories:
• chemical tests for controlled substances and fire debris
• firearms and tool mark analyses
• DNA analyses
• latent fingerprint and impression evidence analysis.

Q. How does the lab receive and return evidence?

A. Requesting agencies send evidence by registered mail or physically deliver evidence to the laboratory. We contact the agency and return the evidence by registered mail, or they come and physically pick it up.

Q. Do you run tests/analysis for the private sector (for fees)?

A. No.

Q. Has the demand for testing in your service areas been consistent over the last few years, has it gone up or has it stayed the same?

A. It has consistently gone up. New DNA technology, law enforcement initiatives, improved crime scene evidence collection, population growth, and the “TV-CSI” effect are contributing factors.

Q. Are certain cases given priority over others, or is it strictly first come- first served?

A. If we are not stressed by backlogs, non-suspect cases or investigative-lead cases can be worked. In general, higher-degree felony cases are done first, unless we are aware that there is some kind of serial crime occurring that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Q. How long does it take to perform the different tests?

A. A simple controlled substance case may take as little as one hour. A simple latent fingerprint processing and comparison may take three to four hours. A simple DNA or firearms case may take as little as one week. Complex cases, in any discipline, may take weeks or months.

Q. How often do lab personnel get called to testify in court?

A. The Chemistry Unit staff members get called almost every day. The other disciplines get called to testify two to six times a month.

Q. When you are given evidence are you also given a corresponding case history and police report?

A. This is case-dependent. In violent crime or complex cases, we encourage communication and sometimes a case brief to assist in probative evidence submission and analytical scheme.

Q. How can evidence identify repeat offenders?

A. Utilize the nation’s three criminal databases to the fullest:
• Automated Fingerprint Identification System
• Combined DNA Index System
• The Integrated Ballistics Identification System

— Compiled by Andy Jackson, CNJ staff writer