If crime dramas are to be believed, case backlogs are a common part of policework. That’s especially true for a forensics lab in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For the Tulsa Police Department (TPD), a case is relegated to the backlog when it’s more than 30 days beyond its initial request, and the forensic work hasn’t yet been completed. At the end of 2016, the TPD had more than 800 backlogged cases.
And now? A year later?
They’ve nearly cut that number in half.
“I just looked,” Tara Brians, the Lab Director for the TPD, told Tulsa’s News on 6. “We had, I believe, almost 800 cases at the end of 2016 and we have now less than 500.”
Soon, they hope to eradicate backlogged cases completely. What’s their secret?
Lean Six Sigma. And it came just in time.
Identifying Waste in the Backlog
The TPD lab is responsible for handling hundreds and hundreds of cases every year, and in some instances, certain slow-moving cases were taking up a lot of the lab’s time.
“There’s really no room for error and we really can’t afford to be wrong on our results,” Brians said. “Those cases are waiting and waiting and that’s where we would love to get to that request and almost start working on it immediately.”
They had to get more efficient, or the backlog was only going to grow larger. Lean Six Sigma was the solution.
“Budgets are not really being increased,” Brians said. “We are not really getting a lot of money so we had to figure out ways to increase efficiency and to do more with less.”
The Lean Six Sigma training uncovered unnecessary steps in their forensics process, which could be safely removed without sacrificing the precision of lab results.
Jon Wilson, the lab’s Operations Manager, said has seen a significant turnaround in lab performance. “The wait times between the initial step and the process can be minimized or shortened,” he said, “to decrease the overall turnaround time.”
It’s been a good year for the TPD forensics lab. Along with Lean Six Sigma implementation, the lab also earned accreditation through new international standards – the first lab in the world to be honored with such a distinction.
It isn’t, however, the first law enforcement forensics lab to change its fortunes through Lean Six Sigma.
Lean Six Sigma and Law Enforcement
In 2016 and 2017, the District 5 Idaho State Police totally redesigned its headquarters to make work faster and more efficient. One of their strategic decisions involved streamlining their own lab, because they were struggling to meet high demands.
“About half to three-quarters of the toxicology analyses completed across the state take place at this facility,” Matthew Gamette, the Idaho State Police director of Forensic Services, told the Idaho State Journal. “About one-third of the state’s breath-alcohol instruments come here and about one-third of the drug chemistry analyses comes through this lab.”
Both the Tulsa Police Department and the District 5 Idaho State Police are reaping the benefits of Lean thinking – faster processing and a much, much lighter backlog to worry about.