The Western Maryland Regional Crime Laboratory is funded through the City of Hagerstown Police Department and subsidized by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. There are three full-time laboratory employees and a part-time administrative assistant. The laboratory personnel are all cross-trained in at least 2 disciplines which include: seized drugs identification, crime scene investigations, firearms, friction ridge development, and serial number restoration. WMRCL employees perform the examinations in the laboratory and are on-call to handle major cases, such as homicides. WMRCL employees may also respond to any type of scene where specialized processing techniques are required.
WMRCL staff members are active in various professional organizations including: the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists, Association of Forensic Quality Assurance Managers, American Society of Crime Laboratory Director's, International Association for Identification (IAI), Chesapeake Bay Division of the IAI, and International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts.
Forensic drug analysis deals with the identification of suspected controlled substances. This refers to drugs and/or chemicals scheduled within the Code of Maryland. Evidence may be in the form of powders, capsules, tablets, vegetable matter and paraphernalia, as well as any solid or liquid requiring chemical identification. Techniques used in the forensic chemistry section include Thin-Layer Chromatography (TLC), Gas Chromatography (GC), Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) and Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) to qualitatively analyze the samples.
Crime scene processing is the actual act of processing the crime scene in the field. The processing refers to the entire task of examining; this may include photography, sketching, and using field techniques to identify, document, process, collect, and preserve physical evidence. A crime scene is any place where a crime occurred. Crime scene processing requires the use of specialized equipment as well as the investigator’s senses. It is often helpful when a team approach can be taken rather than one individual processing an entire crime scene.
When guns are collected as evidence of a crime, it often becomes important to determine the operability of the weapon. Whether the gun functions properly may determine what criminal charges can be brought against a defendant. Test firing guns is also important when attempting to determine if the gun was used in a crime. When projectiles and/or cartridge casings are collected from a crime scene, they can be compared against projectiles and cartridge casings the laboratory collects after completing a test fire.
A projectile capture device (such as the Forensic Buddy or a water tank) is used to slow down and stop projectiles fired from a handgun. Fired projectiles are then forwarded to the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division Firearms Unit for entry into the NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistics Information Network) database.
Serial Number Restoration
Firearms manufactured after 1968 must have a unique serial number imprinted on the metal frame. The serial number identifies and helps document the gun from manufacturer to any registered owner(s). Sometimes criminals will attempt to remove or destroy the serial number in an attempt to make the gun un-traceable.
Serial Number Restoration is the process of revealing serial numbers that have been filed, scraped, polished, or otherwise obliterated. Although most common in firearms cases when serial numbers on weapons have been removed, any metal object with a stamped or impressed serial number can be treated in a similar manner.
Friction Ridge Development
Fingerprints, palm prints and foot prints consist of impressions of the friction ridge skin present on the palm side of the hand and soles of the feet. When a person touches, grabs, or walks barefoot on a surface an impression of the friction ridge skin may be left behind. These unintentional impressions are called latent prints.
The importance of latent print evidence is its ability to identify an individual. Latent prints can be identified to a single person because the friction ridge skin possesses two key properties: permanence and uniqueness. With the exception of injury, a person has the same fingerprints, palm prints, and foot prints from birth until decomposition after death. Additionally, friction ridge skin has unique characteristics which allow even a small portion of a latent print to be identified to a single person.
Latent prints left on a surface can be visualized through a variety of chemical and physical development techniques. Once visible, the latent print can be preserved (lifted, photographed, high resolution scan, etc) and compared to the known inked fingerprints (or palm prints or foot prints) of an individual.
WMRCL’s casework consists of evidence submitted by law enforcement agencies. Casework is NOT accepted from other sources.