By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- The new Indian River County Sheriff's Office forensic sciences complex may look like just a big building on the outside, but on the inside it's the newest weapon in local law enforcement's arsenal to catch and prosecute criminals.
Sgt. Kyle King and the crime scene investigation team are loving their new workspace, which at 12,000-plus square-feet is about three times the size of their previous area.
From the evidence room to the photo imaging studio, investigators have the space and the latest resources to get their job done more efficiently, Sgt. King said.
The new facility is just east of the Indian River County Sheriff's Office administration building and shares a parking lot with the human resources department. The basic building is the old SunSky Roofing building and after purchasing land, renovations, construction and equipment, the project cost about $2.5 million. The human resources building is included in that cost estimate, Sg.t King said.
With the increased space and latest technologies available, investigators will be able more efficiently search and collect evidence from cars in an climate-controlled space, reconstruct crime scene and take highly-detail photos to present to juries, fingerprint testing, analyze fingerprints, computers and cell phones, securely store the thousands of cataloged evidence and do a preliminary DNA test with quick results.
The Indian River County Sheriff's Office is working with a California-based company, IntegenX, to purchase a rapid DNA testing machine, something that will help law enforcement officers more quickly determine if a suspect was involved in a crime, Sgt. King said.
The Indian River County Sheriff's Office uses a laboratory in Fort Pierce to help with DNA evidence testing, and would continue to do so, but with the RapidHIT200, they would have a user-friendly machine to use in their own backyard when a quick-response is needed, he said.
The Palm Bay Police Department has been using the machine for more than a year as part of the testing phase and have reported positive results, said Roy Swiger, director of advance technological services for IntegenX.
"We're hoping the Indian River County Sheriff's Office is the first sheriff's office in Florida to get this technology," Mr. Swiger said.
While digital technology is great, Sgt. King said humans are still the ones that get the job done in other areas of forensic investigations, including matching latent fingerprints from crime scenes.
The investigators now have a large air-conditioned room to do their work and high-tech gear to help them, Sgt. King said.
Air conditioning and proper cooling systems are also essential to work done by teams assigned to computer and cell phone analysis, Sgt. King said.
"Our investigators extract data from cell phones and laptop computers in many cases. Every bad guy has a cell phone," he said.
Running multiple computers in one room is common in today's world, but doing so can cause the room temperature to rise, negatively impacting the electronics, so the new building has plenty of air flow and circulation, Sgt. King said.
"The vehicle processing room is one of my favorite parts of this building. In this controlled environment, it's a lot easier to search the cars inside than in the Florida temperatures," he said.
The evidence room, only accessed by codes known by two employees, has rows upon rows of high-density storage space and separate locked areas for cash, weapons and narcotics, Sgt. King said.
To protect the integrity of the evidence, when the forensic investigator teams were moving to the new building last November, the two evidence staff members had to physically pack and ride back and forth between the two buildings to relocate the items, and there is probably more than 30,000 items in the evidence inventory, Sgt. King said.
"Before, we were bursting at the seams. Our room looked like the T.V. show, 'Hoarders,' there was stuff piled high and you could barely move around," he said.
A new forensics complex has been needed for quite some time, and Sgt. King said he was certain the cost of the building would be worth it in the long and short-term and will help them do a better job of protecting and serving the community.
"We're very excited about it. I always say the detectives on the other side of the campus catch the criminals, and my detective keep them for successful prosecution," Sgt. King said.
For more information about the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, visit www.ircsheriff.org or www.facebook.com.ircsheriff.