The Missouri Highway Patrol's new, expanded crime lab should be up and running Jan. 1, 2021, the lab's director said as state leaders toured the new facility Wednesday.
Lab director Brian Hoey said the just under 8,000-square-foot lab — an addition to the annex at the patrol's General Headquarters in Jefferson City — will have 2o full-time employees, five of whom are currently in training.
Gov. Mike Parson, Department of Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten and Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Eric Olson talked about the impact the new lab — dedicated to DNA processing, including of sexual assault cases — will have across the state.
"Previously, the DNA Section at General Headquarters operated in about a 3,000-square-foot area on different floors of the building," Olson said in a news release from Parson's office. "The increased capacity will make the laboratory more effective and efficient in handling cases."
Amanda Paulus, a casework DNA analyst and CODIS administrator who has worked in the lab for seven years, said lab space was so tight when she started that workers had to share offices.
Workers can't actually analyze two different samples at the same analysis space at the same time — that would risk cross-contamination of evidence.
Ruth Montgomery, DNA technical leader in the lab, said sharing has meant having to schedule times to use a space, and that's slowed down the process, so she's excited about everyone having their own space to work.
Nicole Meister, one of the five future full-time lab workers in training, said working in the lab will be her first job in the field, and she looks forward to the easy flow between lab sections the new addition will provide.
On Wednesday, the space smelled of fresh paint and was full of empty cubicles, tables and countertops.
Ground broke on the addition Nov. 5, 2019, Highway Patrol spokesman Capt. John Hotz said.
Environetics Inc., of Kansas City, designed the space, and Cahills Construction Inc., of Rolla, served as the contractor.
The new space cost $2.7 million, Hoey said.
The money for the space was appropriated in the 2019 fiscal year, and the money for the five additional full-time employees was appropriated in the 2020 fiscal year.
The lab space being vacated by the DNA section as it moves into the addition will be taken up by fingerprints, firearms and trace evidence sections, Hoey said.
The lab's approximately 1,300 backlogged sexual assault kits are mostly being processed off site in anticipation of the move into the lab's new space — meaning there won't be a delay caused by the move, he said.
Parson said he's open to supporting more expansion in the future.
"Right here is where the crime fighting is," not just on the street, the governor said.
He added the work of law enforcement in the lab can help solve crimes that may not have been solvable before.
Lab workers have backgrounds in biology, chemistry or forensic science, Hoey said.
Trainee Morgan Barrett said the job appeals to her desire for her work to make a difference.
Montgomery said it's just part of the job that the people analyzing DNA evidence usually never know how their work affects the outcome of a case — unless they're called to testify as an expert witness — but "it's nice when you do find out in some way."