NJ Forensic History & Labs

Currently, New Jersey offers various levels of services in forensic science laboratories located throughout the state ranging from a one man operation (Cape May County) to a full service laboratory system administered by the New Jersey State Police.

Prior to 1967, there existed only the Newark City Police Department Lab & the New Jersey State Police Lab located at Division Headquarters in West Trenton. As our society changed, the demands for forensic services increased in all areas. However, the major problem in those early years was in the area of drug analysis. Reported drug arrests rose from approximately 5,000 in the late sixties to 35,000 by the mid seventies. This rise in crime, coupled with the existing drug laws, put a tremendous burden on the forensic community to provide adequate service.

The Newark City Police Department first opened their laboratory in the 1920’s to serve the Newark Police Department. The staff size was one or two people up until the late sixties. The New Jersey State Police started a one man laboratory in downtown Trenton in 1935 & expanded the laboratory services with the opening of the State Bureau of Identification constructed at Division Headquarters in 1936. Since its beginning in the mid-thirties, the State Police laboratory system has offered scientific services to all police departments in New Jersey.

With the increasing demands of the late sixties the New Jersey State Police responded by hiring additional people. The 1967 staff consisted of six scientific personnel compared to the current staff of over seventy, along with the increase in staff came the establishment of regional laboratories.

The current State Police laboratory system, known as the Office of Forensic Science, consists of the Central Laboratory, located at the Hamilton Technology Complex, Hamilton, NJ (2004); the North Regional Laboratory, located in Little Falls (1972); the South Regional Laboratory, located in Hammonton (1973); & the East Regional Laboratory, located in Sea Girt (1980). Services provided include analyses in Drugs & Toxicology, Criminalistics (including Biological Stain Analysis & Trace Evidence), & DNA analysis. In addition, the Ballistics Unit (a part of the Forensic Investigation Section) is also located at the Hamilton Technology Complex.

In 1967 legislation was enacted replacing the county coroner’s system with the New Jersey State Medical Examiners Office to be headed by Dr. Edwin Albano (former Essex County Medical Examiner). Dr. Albano started January 1, 1968 with a small borrowed office in City Hospital, Newark. The current Medical Examiner’s laboratory, located in Newark, is a modern 33,000 square feet facility.

The increasing caseloads of the sixties necessitated the establishment of county laboratories. For the most part, these laboratories were & still are primarily drug analysis facilities; however, Ocean County exp&ed the level of services to be the first in the state to offer DNA analysis.

In 1970, the Criminalistics Investigation Unit was started as an extension of the Ocean County Sheriffs Department Identification Unit. By 1976, The Criminalistics Investigation Unit employed two full-time forensic scientists along with crime scene detectives, photography technicians, & clerical support staff.

In 1986, the Criminalistics Investigation Unit moved into a new facility & began a period of expansion. The Forensic Laboratory staff increased to two full-time forensic scientists, & the services offered to the community expanded from drug analysis to include arson debris analysis, blood alcohol, urine analysis for drugs of abuse, basic serology & sex crime kit. In 1991, the Sheriff’s Department began in-house DNA testing.

Today, the Forensic Laboratory has a staff of four full-time forensic scientists that work along with the Criminalistics Investigation staff of ten detectives, two forensic photography technicians, one evidence officer, & two supervisors.

The services that the laboratory currently provides to all thirty-three municipalities in Ocean County include drug analysis, blood alcohol determinations, urine analysis for drugs of abuse, ballistics, toolmark, & paint chip comparison.

Union County, New Jersey encompasses 21 municipalities – a blend of urban & suburban communities with a population of approximately 500,000. In the Fall of 1971 (Funded by LEAA & Union County), the Union County Prosecutor’s Office established a CDS analysis laboratory. The laboratory was located in converted office space together with the office’s Narcotics Strike Force.

The original staff consisted of one chemist & a part-time secretary. Over 800 CDS cases were examined the first year. In 1977, the laboratory began examining evidence in sexual assault cases. Assigned personnel & space increased to accommodate the new service & growing case load.

Today, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Laboratory encompasses approximately 5,000 square feet (over 10 times the original size). The laboratory staff includes six technical & four support personnel (all civilian civil service). Using sophisticated analytical instrumentation & equipment, the laboratory has examined over 70,000 cases & provided expert testimony at all levels of the judicial system. Plans are now underway for a new, expanded laboratory to meet the demands of the 21st Century.

The Burlington County Forensic Science Laboratory, funded by the County budget, is an integral part of the Burlington County government.

The laboratory was established in September 1975 & opened it’s doors to the public in January 1976. In 1983, it became the first crime laboratory in the eastern United States to be accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. The Forensic Science Laboratory is located in the Burlington County Public Safety Center. The laboratory services law enforcement agencies within the County; which includes 40 municipal police departments, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Burlington County Jail, Minimum Security Jail, Post House, U.S. Army & U.S. Air Force, all free of charge.

The services of the laboratory include drug analysis, blood alcohol determination, arson analysis & urinalysis confirmation. The laboratory is equipped with modern analytical instrumentation, including the Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrophotometer, Gas Chromatography, Microscopy, etc.

Upon request, laboratory personnel will assist in crime scene investigation on special cases, such as clandestine laboratory investigation. They will also lecture to law enforcement agencies & provide expert testimony when subpoenaed.

The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office Forensic Laboratory has been in full-time operation since March of 1976. With a scientific staff of four & two support personnel, the laboratory is equipped to analyze & identify controlled dangerous substances seized within Hudson County. As a designated State Forensic Laboratory, the laboratory has received over 27,000 request for examinations since 1976. The laboratory serves the following jurisdictions & agencies: Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Department of Corrections, County Police, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department, New Jersey Transit Police, Conrail Police, & the municipal police departments of Jersey City, Bayonne, North Bergen, Union City, West New York, East Newark, Kearny, Harrison, Guttenberg, Weehawken, Hoboken, & Secaucus.

In the past 25 years we have witnessed tremendous growth including entire laboratory systems, county laboratories, the equine laboratories, & a vast increase in the number of scientific personnel. Technological advances continue to change the methodology used in all disciplines. These changes will necessitate, more than ever, constant training to meet the future demands placed upon the forensic science community.

Contributions were made to this article by the various laboratories.