State Crime Lab Consortium Receives $2 Million Grant to Provide More Forensics Professionals, Education
HELENA — Attorney General Tim Fox announced today a consortium comprised of the Montana Department of Justice’s Forensic Science Division, the University of Washington, George Mason University, the National Association of Attorneys General, and the American Society for Clinical Pathology received a $2 million National Institute of Justice (NIJ) Center on Forensics grant.
Grant funds will be used to establish the National Forensic Center, which will:
• Provide additional medical examiners/coroners in underserved rural areas, including Montana;
• Provide forensic science and legal training to district attorneys, judges, and law enforcement; and
• Develop opportunities to benefit current/future practitioners in the fields of forensic pathology, forensic science, law enforcement, and criminal justice.
“This grant award is a huge gain for Montana,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “In addition to creating greater medical examiner recruitment and training opportunities for pathology students and practicing physicians, we can increase the forensics workforce here in Montana. Grant monies will also help our communities get more forensic science education, directly benefitting Montana’s criminal justice system,” Fox added. Fox went on to thank Forensic Science Division (FSD) Administrator Scott Larson for coordinating the grant request, as well as the Montana County Attorneys Association and Montana Coroners Association for their support.
Larson says he’ll help the consortium develop nationally-available training for coroners, law enforcement, attorneys, and judges, focusing on pathology, forensic science, and legal requirements. FSD’s medical examiners will help train future forensic pathologists by working with medical students in the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho (WWAMI) Program at the University of Washington. “By partnering with UW’s multi-state medical education program, we can recruit students more likely to serve rural areas in forensic pathology,” Larson said. “I’m hoping to hand-pick Montana students so we can create a larger hiring pool for future medical examiners here,” Larson added. In addition, the grant provides funding for an experimental “coroner liaison” position. This new position would improve death investigation in Montana by helping increase usage of the death investigation database system among coroners, as well as work with pathologists to retrieve case records from coroners, review statewide deaths with pathologists, and provide training to coroners.
Over the last several years, the Montana Department of Justice (DOJ) has steadily improved the state’s medical examiner system: DOJ hired two additional medical examiners and secured a second laboratory location in eastern Montana. Its medical examiner system is working toward National Association of Medical Examiners accreditation, more training for county coroners, and implementing a death investigation database to facilitate tracking and communication among stakeholders.
FSD, better known as the State Crime Lab, is one of eight divisions within the Montana DOJ. It was established in Montana Code in 1977, and has facilities in Missoula and Billings. The Missoula facility houses two Deputy Chief Medical examiners, DNA/serology, toxicology, chemical analysis, latent prints, firearms/toolmarks, quality assurance, and evidence sections. The Billings facility, built in 2018, houses the Chief Medical Examiner and one Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, as well as chemical analysis and evidence sections.
In 2019, FSD performed 657 postmortem examinations; 359 in Missoula and 298 in Billings, a 7.3% increase over 2018.