Forensic Services is composed of three sections: Crime Laboratory, Property and Evidence, and the Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Program. In December of 2013, the Forensic Services Division moved into a state-of-the-art building which includes a new laboratory, evidence facility, morgue and other support facilities, co-located at Sheriff’s Headquarters in Santa Cruz.
The Forensic Services Supervisor manages several classifications including Criminalists, Property and Evidence Clerks, and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners on contract with the Program.
CRIME LABORATORY SECTION
The Crime Laboratory section is staffed by criminalists specializing in latent print examination and computer forensics. Additional disciplines may be added in the future depending on funding opportunities and demand for services.
Since 2008, Santa Cruz County has owned and maintained a local database of searchable fingerprints and palm prints known as AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System). The latent print examiners search latent prints through the local database, as well as the California Department of Justice and FBI. Approximately 30% of the crime cases where prints of value are collected result in AFIS hits. Latent print examiners also process evidence in the laboratory using a variety of scientific techniques to detect latent prints.
Criminalists specializing in computer forensics process and analyze data on computers, cell phones and other digital media. Due to the proliferation of electronic devices and social media, computer forensics figures prominently in the investigation of all types of crimes.
Crime Scene Investigation
Criminalists respond to major crime scenes, such as homicides, sexual assaults or other crimes where scientific evidence is present to establish the factual basis of what occurred and to identify the persons involved. Criminalists are responsible for locating, documenting, collecting and packaging evidence at crime scenes. Methods used to process and evaluate crime scenes include photography, video, diagramming and the use of forensic casting materials, powders, light and chemicals to recognize forensic evidence. Criminalists also work closely with a Forensic Pathologist and Coroner Detectives on homicides and other criminal death investigations.
Forensic Services provides training to local law enforcement agencies on a wide variety of applied forensic issues and publishes a monthly training bulletin available to all local law enforcement agencies.
PROPERTY AND EVIDENCE SECTION
The Property and Evidence Section is responsible for the intake, storage and disposition of approximately 12,000 – 15,000 pieces of evidence seized annually by the Sheriff’s Office.
SEXUAL ASSAULT FORENSIC EXAMINER PROGRAM
The Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) are registered nurses with a specialty in adult and pediatric forensic sexual assault examination. The SAFE team provides services to all law enforcement agencies located in Santa Cruz County, conducting approximately 70 sexual assault examinations of victims and suspects a year.
Lauren Zephro, PhD., Forensic Services Supervisor
Forensic Sciences Facility