A media open house was held at the Amarillo Department of Public Safety (DPS) Crime Lab during National Forensic Science Week, giving the community an opportunity to see what the crime lab does day to day.
The Amarillo DPS Crime Lab covers the 26 largest counties in the state, from sheriff’s offices to airports. The lab sees everything from cannabis to mushrooms to LSD and various other drugs.
As soon as the evidence is taken to the laboratory, it is properly sealed to ensure the quality of the evidence.
“We don’t know what happened at the scene. We interact with him when it comes to the lab. We want to make sure quality and integrity are not lost,” said Brandon Conrad, lab manager for the Amarillo DPS Crime Lab.
The number one drug seen in the area is methamphetamine. This usually comes in a crystalline substance that varies in colors like pink, blue, and green.
There are no immigration checkpoints on Interstate 40, marking it as the drug corridor. “Drugs come from West to East, and money comes from East to West. We get submissions coming from opposite directions,” Conrad said.
With the development of technology, the determination time of various kinds of drugs is shorter. Due to the lack of helium, several of the machines do not use it. Multiple samples are taken to ensure the quality of the tests so that the report that is issued is as accurate as possible.
Another big drug that is seized is cannabis. In the laboratory, it is a green, plant-like substance. Once it arrives at the laboratory, the microscopic characteristics are analyzed and observed to reach the conclusion of whether it is cannabis.
“Twenty years ago, you saw a brick and you knew it was cocaine, but today it could be fentanyl, heroin, or small amounts of these drugs. There are also tablets that many people feel safe taking, because growing up, it’s what their family gave them,” Conrad explained. “These tablets are not manufactured in a laboratory, where we would know the concentration of it. One of these tablets could be 100% fentanyl and would most likely kill the person taking it.”
After recording the weight of the product, crime lab technicians move the item to determine what type of controlled substance is present by color testing with different types of chemical agents. What color the substance changes after the liquid is added determines which substance is present. Some of the different colors seen are orange, purple, and blue.
The local crime lab also has a breath alcohol lab, where a forensic scientist trains in the lab and helps maintain officer certifications. A 9000 intoxilyzer would be used during a DWI traffic stop to obtain a breath sample. Each time a new mouthpiece is used and the person provides a sample. A reference sample device is used to ensure the machine works properly. Twenty of these instruments in the field are supervised and maintained a minimum of once a month to ensure quality. This ensures that the machine is reading positive and negative samples correctly.
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Conrad said there is a consistent amount of methamphetamine and fentanyl tested in the lab. The Amarillo location specifically tests for seized drugs in conjunction with the breath alcohol lab. Once seized drugs are in custody, a scientific analysis is performed to determine if it is a controlled substance and if it is a particular type of substance. A report is then made and turned over to an attorney for processing.
With drug tests come different kits and tests to determine the type of drugs seized by officers during traffic stops. The Amarillo DPS crime lab is continually accredited as being known for the quality of substances processed.
Large volumes and quantities of drugs are seen in the crime lab due to the I-40 corridor.
“When I started here, there was only one person here. We now currently have three test technicians to handle the large volume of seized drugs that we handle,” Conrad said.
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe News: Interior view of the Amarillo DPS crime lab for Forensic Science Week