Training in Forensic Science: The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

If you have ever seen me lecture before, you know that one of my themes is the need fro greater education and training in the laboratory for analysts. For years, I have been talking about the “oral tradition” method of training that goes on at forensic laboratories wherein the last person to push the button teaches the next person how to teach the button. This sort of training that does not rely on fundamentals and is not taught by PhDs or those with graduate degrees is a formula for disaster.

This apprenticeship/oral tradition method of teaching leads to the propagation of error and generational ignorance. Most importantly it confounds justice.

It is the blind leading the blind….

All we have to do is look at the investigation in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Just look at this from the full report:

Allegation 1: EMPLOYEE 18 alleges that blood alcohol training protocols for toxicology lab analysts are inadequate.

Supporting Information: EMPLOYEE 18 states: “My training in Toxicology started with EMPLOYEE 1. After about one week, EMPLOYEE 6 continued to train me while EMPLOYEE 1 began training someone else for a different machine. My training lasted about three weeks. Prior to working for Toxicology, I had experience working with a gas chromatograph, but no experience working with blood or alcohol. After my training, I began working full-time as a Tech I performing the full duties of that position. The people who trained me were just other analysts. They had not been trained how to train new analysts. EMPLOYEE 6 also trained EMPLOYEE 16.”

EMPLOYEE 18 continues: “Despite the fact that I was never trained how to train new lab technicians, I was put in charge of training two new employees in the summer of 2012. I was very uncomfortable performing that role because no one had taught me how to do it. In addition, I was required to handle a full work load while training the new employees, which made it difficult for me to perform my job properly. I ran as many samples as I could, but it was impossible for me to keep up with the work load. EMPLOYEE 4 and SUPERVISOR 3 both emailed me frequently to criticize me for not running enough samples, but I was running as many samples as I possibly could. During the time I was required to train the new employees, I frequently went to EMPLOYEE 4 for guidance because I didn’t know what I should be doing. I did not receive adequate guidance from her/him.”

EMPLOYEE 18 adds: “I have a friend who works for the Orange County Crime Lab, who underwent an entire year before s/he was allowed to even touch a sample. I also have a friend who works in Florida, and her/his training lasted a year and a half. When I attended the Borkenstein class at the University of Indiana in approximately May of 2012, several other attendees explained that their training periods were much longer and that they were not allowed to start working until after completing the Borkenstein class. I don’t think the three week training I underwent was sufficient to prepare me for the job requirements. When I told EMPLOYEE 4 about those longer training periods after I returned from the class, s/he told me that they didn’t have time to train people that long.”

EMPLOYEE 7 is a [JOB TITLE] in the [WORK LOCATION] lab who workedas [JOB TITLE] in the toxicology Jab from December, 2009 to October, 2010.

EMPLOYEE 7 adds: “I saw new employees come into the Toxicology lab after I left, and they were not trained properly. Toxicology and Organic Chemistry share the same workspace, so I saw how the new employees were trained. When I was trained by SUPERVISOR 4, SUPERVISOR 4 sat right next to me for three months, but no one trained the new employees like that after I transferred out. I have never seen anyone in toxicology get trained like I got trained.”
EMPLOYEE 6 is a [JOB TITLE] in the [WORK LOCATION] lab who worked as [JOB TITLE] in the toxicology lab from May, 2010 to November, 2011.

EMPLOYEE 6 adds: “I don’t feel like training for the blood alcohol bench was adequate after SUPERVISOR 4 and SUPERVISOR 5 left. SUPERVISOR 5 was so on top of the quality control that everything I did was checked several times. I also think quality control went down the tubes after SUPERVISOR 5 left.

EMPLOYEE 11 told me that EMPLOYEE 4 was supposed to completely take over SUPERVISOR 5’s job, but I don’t think s/he knows enough about blood alcohol to conduct quality control at the same high level that SUPERVISOR 5 did. SUPERVISOR 5 told me that EMPLOYEE 4 had plenty of opportunities to learn about quality control from her/him but that s/he never did. S/he also said something like, ‘As soon as I leave, this place is going to fall apart.’ I think quality control did decline after SUPERVISOR 5 left. For my own testing, I
knew how to do good quality control, but other analysts had problems with quality control because they were so new.”
EMPLOYEE 6 continues: “SUPERVISOR 3 hired kids right out of school and left it to me to train them on blood alcohol or EMPLOYEE 4 to train them on blood drugs. I don’t think toxicology’s training checklist is adequate for training. It includes necessary training elements, but not sufficient training elements. There needs to be more training than just what the checklist includes. The checklist is enough to get a lab tech’s feet wet, but the lab tech still needs someone constantly overseeing their work until they master it, and I think that process takes a solid year. SUPERVISOR 5 and SUPERVISOR 4 provided that kind of oversight, but after they left there was no one to do it.”
EMPLOYEE 6 adds: “After I left, I think EMPLOYEE 18, EMPLOYEE 16, and other [JOB TITLE] were out there on their own. It takes at least a year to become comfortable doing quality control for blood alcohol because the data is so important.”

EMPLOYEE 1 has worked as [JOB TITLE] in the toxicology lab since December, 2010. EMPLOYEE 1 states: “I began training for the blood alcohol bench in approximately May, 2011. That training also lasted approximately one month. EMPLOYEE 6 trained me for the blood alcohol bench. I began by observing her/him and then conducted practice tests. I also had required reading. I attempted to complete that portion of the training but was not able to read all the articles because they were not all available. My trainer did not follow up to make sure I completed the reading.”
EMPLOYEE 1 continues: “I felt that the training for the blood alcohol bench was adequate for purposes of conducting the tests, but I felt like it was inadequate in other ways. I was not adequately trained how to perform daily maintenance or periodic maintenance on the testing equipment. … Making a mix of volatile chemicals is required for sample testing at the beginning of each run, before calibrating the machine, but I was not trained how to do that. I was also not taught that the hydrogen generator had to be filled with water. I learned
that when the alarm sounded on the generator.”

It has almost got to the point that when there is a new laboratory scandal discovered, it provokes a yawn in me. Isn’t that sad?!? You know what happened when there was half the scandals in the clinical world? The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA)!

Where is FLIA?!?!?

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