Themis LIMS Successfully Launched at Alaska State Department of Public Safety Scientific Crime Laboratory (SCDL)

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Scientist working on Themis productThemis, RJ Lee Group’s Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), has been successfully implemented by the ANAB certified Alaska State Department of Public Safety Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (SCDL) fulfilling a number of needs that were historically handled with spreadsheets and other manual workflows. We recently talked with Orin Dym, Forensic Crime Lab Chief, to learn how Themis is meeting the needs of the lab since adoption in May 2018.

“Themis was purchased as a solution due to its flexibility and workflow rules engine,” Dym told us. “Soon after it was implemented, we realized it could help us solve a problem of managing Sexual Assault (SA) Kits in the Lab. This is a not only a state-wide problem, but a national problem that has gained public recognition in recent news cycles. As bills were heard across Alaska’s legislature, the state crime lab evaluated dedicated software systems to track their kits. These systems could cost upwards of $100k per year.”

“Before Themis, the kits were basically a stack of papers in a supply closet. We didn’t know how many were in the hands of law enforcement, or how many had not been returned to us for testing. With Themis, we are now using a barcoding system that allows us to track where the kits go and when they arrive at the lab for testing. Themis allows us to know at a glance our inventory: when they were sent, how many kits a particular police department has, and when we need to send them more,” Dym explained. “This helps fix a lack of communication between agencies.”

Dym continued, “Every lab is different in how it operates, but every lab has to track evidence. Alaska is a large state, and much of our evidence comes to us through USPS, UPS, FedEx, Alaska Airlines, and other courier services. Themis allows us to streamline our work with package intake, increasing traceability and efficiency of workflow. Even if it comes in across the counter, we have a system to track all evidence in one place. The evidence handling function in Themis is quite frankly outstanding.”

Most LIMS systems are designed for a linear process, but many labs, including the SCDL, do not work in a linear fashion. Themis allows evidence to be received, checked in, and stored without having to complete the workflow for each piece of evidence independently. In addition, the system ensures that evidence is consistently maintained with a complete and accurate chain of custody from initial receipt to final disposition.

“We may receive a package with twenty to thirty different items of evidence from five different cases, and breaking down that linearity with Themis allows us to look at each piece of evidence separately, including how it arrived and how it’s processed,” Dym went on.

The increased efficiency in evidence receiving was recently put to the test when the SCDL began a project to have previously untested Sexual Assault Kits analyzed. Two thousand Sexual Assault Kits shipped from 47 different police agencies throughout the State of Alaska had to be received, entered into the LIMS, and tracked, all while the normal flow of evidence being received and returned had to be maintained. Due to the efficiency gains in the system, the lab was able to quickly log these kits without hiring additional or temporary employees.

Sue Blanda, Director of Information and Software Services at RJ Lee Group, is enthusiastic regarding the working relationship between the SCDL and RJLG.
“Our software team has worked closely with SCDL to provide a system that supports their workflow without forcing them to change their processes or procedures. The collaboration and communication between the organizations has been amazing. As a result, we were able to deliver a system that increased productivity and created efficiencies in the lab.”

“There are two approaches software companies take,” Dym explained. “There are those who create a product, and the customer has to adapt to that product. Then there is RJ Lee Group’s approach, which is to start with a base, then modify the software according to what the client needs to best do their job. LIMS have mostly focused on chemistry for years, so any system has dropdowns, lists, and so on. But latent prints, biology, firearms, toolmarks, and other types of evidence we deal with have mostly involved taking handwritten notes and scanning them in, or typing them into Word documents and uploading those files. Themis allows us to capture those notes within the system, which is another huge advantage.”

Currently, the SCDL is fully utilizing Controlled Substances, Forensic Alcohol, and Latent Print (LP) Analysis Themis Modules. The crime lab will have Firearm/Toolmarks, Footwear, Crime Scene, and Forensic Biology disciplines entering data into the Themis system by mid-October 2018.

“The LP process has always been a challenge. By nature, the LP analysis is non-linear, which again, the design of Themis supports. We worked with the RJLG team to creatively break boundaries and rethink those challenges. The team is very excited about using Themis for LP as it is what we believe a ‘state-of-art’ module,” Dym said.

Also, the lab has incorporated much of their QA/QC (quality assurance/quality control) into the LIMS allowing them to better manage their quality system. Documents can be assigned as a step in the workflow for review and approval with visibility into status. More information including the Chain of Custody is on the bench sheets, so Discovery requests are all inclusive and more comprehensive than ever before.

“The Department of Law is pleased, and any time the defense can get more information upfront they are happier. This reduces the back and forth asking for additional information. We are hoping to see the requests for Discovery diminish as a result.”

“Overall, Themis provides a way of working very effectively and efficiently. We’re all part of a system to work together to accomplish a mission. If I can do this without making it someone else’s problem, and without adding to someone’s work load, that’s just a huge bonus. The crime lab is one entity that talks to everyone and provides kits to everyone. How do we make it worth an agency’s while to participate in this with us? Asking them to do more work doesn’t get them to participate. We can achieve this without implementing legislation. That’s the true win, here. Themis has given us the functionality we need to do more work, better, with less cost and work across agencies,” Dym concluded.