WACO, Texas (Fox 44)– This week is Forensic Science Week, and it aims to highlight the forensic science work in labs across the country.

The Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Waco uses a wide variety of tools and resources to ultimately figure out some of the most important information in a case.

“It’s an opportunity to see not only the different services that we offer, but how what actually goes on in a crime lab may differ than what they see on TV,” DNA section supervisor Brent Watson said. “There are a lot of similarities, but there are also some differences.”

Sixteen DPS crime labs serve the state of Texas Criminal Justice System.

Watson says there are a lot of professionals in labs across the nation who work hard every day to help law enforcement solve crimes.

“Using science to make sure the bad guys are caught and taken off the streets, to make sure that that we are living in a safer society,” Watson said.

The lab here in Waco provides services for over 20 counties.

That includes determining biology and DNA, controlled substances and breath alcohol content.

“We’re really just one link in the chain for a successful prosecution or the successful outcome of a case,” Watson said. “So we all collaborate together to make sure that the appropriate things are done, the evidence is collected, it’s submitted to us so we can apply our skills of science.”

Lindsay Hatfield is the supervisor for the drug section and says after her experience in this job, she encourages parents to really pay attention to what their kids have.

“A lot of the stuff we receive these days are clandestine tablets,” Hatfield said. “So that’s kind of scary for kids because they do look like candy.”

Over the past year, there were several positive crime lab developments, including:

  1. Approximately 600 unsolved cases were aided through HB 1399 (86th Legislature) in the last year alone. HB 1399 requires the collection of DNA samples from people arrested for certain felonies. The samples are run through the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) Laboratory in Austin and entered into a database to check for possible DNA matches between those arrestees and unsolved cases across the country.
  • DPS Labs across the state reduced turnaround times for sexual assault kits to under 90 calendar days, on average. Furthermore, the sexual assault evidence-tracking program allows sexual assault survivors to anonymously track and receive updates on the status and progress of evidence.
  • In the last year, DPS began testing older sexual assault kits that had previously never been submitted to a crime laboratory and had had been stored, untested, in property rooms across the state. 
  • DPS developed a new process for determining the THC content in liquids and oils; the testing of these case types resumed Sept. 1, 2022, following a pause after the passage of the Texas Hemp Act of 2019.
  • The turnaround time for analysis of blood alcohol content in driving under the influence cases remains at or under 30 calendar days from time of submission.

“We are constantly keeping up with technology and the substances that are being submitted,” Hatfield said.

National Forensic Science Week stretches from September 18-24.