Crime Laboratory History

1930s

Cpl James Russell and Dr. Bradley Kirschberger inside a lab used by the State Police in the 1930s

Corporal James Russell (left) and Dr. Bradley Kirschberger, the Director of the 1930s Laboratory, in one of the laboratory rooms.

1935: Legislation that became effective May 4 authorized the creation of a plainclothes bureau of investigation within the Division of State Police. The same legislation provided for the establishment of a State Police Scientific Laboratory and approved the hiring of civilian technical experts to investigate crimes.

1936: As part of the newly re-organized Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Superintendent John A. Warner appointed forensic chemist and noted criminologist Dr. Bradley H. Kirshberger first director of the New York State Police Scientific Laboratory. Dr. Kirshberger's laboratory in Schenectady became the first official home of the NYSP Crime Lab, which became operational May 21, 1936. Twenty-four-hour-a-day consultation services and assistance were available to any police agency, district attorney's office or department in New York State upon request.

Lab staff initially consisted of two chemists and eight assistants, clerks and typists, hired full-time through the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Depression-era public works program. These personnel were supplemented by various scientists and technicians hired on a per diem basis whenever their particular skills were required.

In addition to investigation, much of the lab's early work focused on research and data collection in the fields of ballistics, photography, hair sampling, blood grouping and other disciplines. Headlight lenses, cloth fibres, paints, tire tread patterns and other diverse items were painstakingly examined and catalogued in great detail so that even the smallest shred of evidence found at a crime scene could be compared and identified. The lab also assisted in publishing a monthly (later bi-monthly) "Scientific Bulletin of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation."

1940s

William E. Kirwan Jr.

1941: Following the death of Dr. Kirschberg, Superintendent Warner appointed Tpr. William E. Kirwan Jr., right, acting lab director. The promotion later became permanent. Tpr. Kirwan, who joined the State Police in 1936, continued to rise through the ranks and eventually became the seventh superintendent of the New York State Police in 1967, appointed by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller. He served in that capacity until his retirement in 1975.

1942: During World War II, the lab examined Japanese-packed canned seafood, after reports circulated that some had been found contaminated with glass particles. Nothing harmful was ever found.

1943: In one of many organizational changes following the appointment of Superintendent John A. Gaffney, the Scientific Laboratory was relocated from Schenectady to 545 Broadway in Albany.

1948: The lab produces a training film on autopsy procedures.

1950-60s

NYSP 1953 Scientific Laboratory

1953: On April 1, the Scientific Laboratory moved from Broadway to a new, purpose-built, 7,500-square-foot structure at 8 Nolan Road in Albany, left. The new building included many features designed to be conducive to scientific criminal investigations, such as special rooms for lie detector examinations, serological analyses, microscopic examinations and other specialized work, as well as a museum for criminal exhibits, a motion picture projection room, a photographic studio and physical laboratory.

NYSP Headquarters, opened in May 1964

1964: In May, the Division opened its new headquarters building, left, on the State Office Building Campus in Albany, consolidating its administrative offices, Pistol Permits Bureau and Crime Laboratory in a single, central location. The move was part of a sweeping program of building assessment, re-evaluation, consolidation, construction and modernization implemented by Superintendent Arthur Cornelius Jr.

1970s

1973: As the problem of illegal drug use began to reach epidemic proportions in the 1970s, drug arrests and the related need for scientific analysis of seized or confiscated materials virtually inundated the Crime Lab. A massive backlog of drug cases developed. Help arrived in the form of a federal grant to support the hiring of 14 new scientists during 1973. New equipment also was purchased, including a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, used to identify drugs and other chemical substances. Even so, by the following year, laboratory personnel were working two shifts to deal with the drug caseload.

1978: The State Police began a program of laboratory expansion aimed at improving evidence analysis services to local law enforcement agencies. The first new facility to come on-line under this initiative was the Mid-Hudson Regional Crime Laboratory, located at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, which opened Oct. 5, 1978. It specializes in the areas of drug chemistry and toxicology.

1979: Laboratory expansion continued with the Feb. 2, 1979 opening of the Southern Tier Regional Crime Laboratory on Park Street in Port Crane, near Binghamton. It specializes in the area of drug chemistry analysis.

1980s-90s

Western Regional Lab in Olean, NY

1985: The Western Regional Crime Laboratory, right, on Homer Street in Olean was opened. It specializes in the areas of trace, drug chemistry and toxicology.

1992: The architectural firm of Einhorn, Yaffee and Prescott was awarded a contract to conduct a needs assessment for a new State Police Forensic Investigation Center. The result of this effort was the design of a new facility by the New York State Office of General Services, Division of Design and Construction, and the firm of Ruth and Going.

1996: The Forensic Investigation Center, below, headquarters for the Crime Laboratory System, opened Oct. 22 as Building #30 on the State Office Campus in Albany. The entire $25 million state-of-the-art facility was paid for with money from assets seized from drug traffickers, making it "the house that crack built."

The facility provides the entire state criminal justice system with forensic science services and serves as home for the state's DNA Databank. This genetic data archive was originally established as a repository for blood samples taken from all felons convicted of sexual assault, homicide, manslaughter and other violent crimes committed since 1996.

In 1999, Governor Pataki signed legislation greatly expanding the list of felony offenders who must submit for inclusion in the DNA Databank. This massively expanded the state's genetic fingerprint and file of convicted criminals.

2000-2010

Forensic Investigation Center

2000: The Biological Sciences section, located in the Forensic Investigation Center, underwent tremendous growth during 2000 because the State legislation expanding the DNA Databank. An additional 65 scientists and support personnel were hired to process DNA samples from convicted felony offenders statewide.

It was necessary for the headquarters laboratory to implement a second shift to train the additional staff without disrupting on-going criminal casework. The laboratory was able to upgrade and expand its aging equipment, thus increasing the efficiency of the Biological Sciences unit.

2001: Technological advances in forensic science coupled with expanding services led to the implementation of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). LIMS software allows bar coding of all evidence in the laboratory system and the ability to electronically track pieces of each case from receipt through processing until the evidence is returned to the requesting police agency.

The use of this system provided much needed assistance and support to New York City's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner during 9/11 when the Crime Laboratory System (CLS) was put to the test barcoding and tracking thousands of pieces of evidence from the World Trade Center disaster area.

2005: During the middle of the decade accreditation standards across the country increased for public laboratories and the CLS prepared for the 2008 ASCLD/LAB - International program assessment. This was the first attempt in compliance with the ISO 17025 accreditation standards and the CLS was awarded successful completion of the program.

2007: As the market for illegal substances continued to pose a threat to the well being of the citizens of New York State, the Contaminated Crime Scene Emergency Response Team (CCSERT) expanded to include chemists from the four laboratories across the state. Staffing within the Drug Chemistry unit grew and this rapidly deployable unit is responsible for mitigating crime scenes statewide where methamphetamine and other illegal substances are manufactured in clandestine laboratories.