laboratory directors appearing before the committee cited budget cuts as high as 22 percent over the past five years.11

Personnel and Equipment

The 2005 BJS census estimated that publicly funded crime laboratories employed more than 11,900 full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel in 2005. Most crime laboratories are relatively small: the median staff size in 2005 was 16. Distinctly different professional tracks exist within forensic laboratories, ranging from laboratory technicians and general examiners to scientists. According to the census data, analysts or examiners—persons who typically prepare evidence, conduct tests, interpret results, sign laboratory reports, and testify in court—comprised 58 percent of all crime laboratory FTEs in 2005. Technical support personnel, who typically assist analysts or examiners in preparing evidence and conducting tests, accounted for 10 percent of all FTEs. Thirteen percent of FTEs were managerial personnel, 8 percent were in clerical positions, and 6 percent were crime scene technicians. Similar ranges in the distribution of personnel are evident among lab-oratories by type of jurisdiction served. (The uncertainties in these reported percentages depend on the number of laboratories that responded to the FTE survey questions.) A 2006 NIJ report cited equipment shortages (which may include insufficient equipment maintenance) as a limiting factor in processing cases.12 It cited equipment needs at the 50 largest laboratories in the disciplines of controlled substances, trace evidence, firearms, questioned documents, latent prints, toxicology, and arson. Evidence submission may or may not be automated, depending on the laboratory. Lack of automation increases the time the laboratory spends on logging in evidence.

A 2005 survey of public crime laboratories conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany found that the number of FTEs in a laboratory ranged from 2 to 280, with an average of 34, the majority of whom have bachelor’s degrees.13 Because of the distinctly different professional tracks within larger laboratories, for example, technicians perform tests with defined protocols, and credentialed scientists conduct specialized testing and interpretation. Unlike many other professions, the forensic science disciplines have no organized control over entry into the profession, such as by degree, boards or exams, or licensure (see Chapter 7).


Johnson, op. cit.


NIJ. 2006. Status and Needs of Forensic Science Service Providers: A Report to Congress. Available at


W.S. Becker, W.M. Dale, A. Lambert, and D. Magnus. 2005. Letter to the editor—Forensic lab directors’ perceptions of staffing issues. Journal of Forensic Sciences 50(5):1255-1257.

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