The Sheriff of Palm Beach County is directly responsible for housing, staffing and approving the Crime Laboratory budget as well as supporting the Crime Laboratory’s mission to be a forensic science testing provider for law enforcement agencies within the county.
PBSO initiated forensic analysis on casework evidence in the mid-1960s with one staff member. The Crime Laboratory facility was originally located at an old WWII hospital building across from the Airport Civil Defense Building on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach. Half of this building was occupied by the laboratory and the other half by the Chief Medical Examiner.
Jay Pintacuda was hired by PBSO in 1968 as the “Lab Guy” and became Palm Beach County’s first drug chemist after completing drug chemistry training that was facilitated by the Miami-Dade Laboratory. In 1970, the director of the Miami-Dade Laboratory recruited Richard Tanton, while he was still in the German Army Laboratory, to move to Florida to set up satellite forensic laboratories in Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties which was funded by a Law Enforcement Assistance Act grant. This involved a year-long training at Miami-Dade to “standardize” techniques throughout the counties. The training essentially converted Mr. Tanton from a drug chemist to the first Palm Beach County serologist such that biological stains from casework evidence could be confirmed as blood or saliva and typed for human proteins. After a one-year internship with the three county training consortiums, Mr. Tanton was assigned to Palm Beach County where he would remain in the Crime Laboratory for over twenty-seven years, most of this time as the director of the Crime Laboratory.
When Mr. Tanton was officially employed as a serologist in February 1972, the Crime Laboratory staff also included a toxicologist and a drug chemist. Within three years, the laboratory was relocated to an “upgraded” section of the PBSO Road Patrol building which was also at the airport. In this facility, the staff increased and decreased as a scientist left to become a deputy, and new scientists were hired. In these early years, the laboratory slowly expanded by hiring Mr. William Heidtman Jr. in the Drug Chemistry Unit and Mildred Kirkland as a serology technician.
In 1981, the existing PBSO headquarters on Gun Club Road was completed and space was allocated for the Crime Laboratory which at the time consisted of four Forensic Units: Drug Chemistry, Serology, Toxicology and Firearms. A Quality Assurance Manager for the Crime Laboratory was announced in 1996. By the early 1990s, the total number of Crime Laboratory staff was about twenty employees.
Nationally, there was an initiative to have crime laboratories become accredited and after years of preparation, in 1991 the PBSO Forensic Toxicology, Firearms, Drug Chemistry and Serology Units achieved the status of “Legacy” accreditation through the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors-Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB). In 2012, the Crime Laboratory achieved international accreditation status under ISO 17025:2005 standards.
The PBSO headquarters expanded again, and in 1992 the Crime Laboratory relocated to the east side of the second floor of the new addition. It was at this time that a PBSO DNA program was approved by the Palm Beach County Commissioners. The first criminal case that was analyzed for DNA occurred on May 3, 1993. The name of the Serology Unit was later changed to the Forensic Biology Unit (FBU) in order to reflect the ASCLD-LAB accreditation designation. The FBU staff has increased from one in 1972 to almost 20 in 2021 and has gained national and international recognition for advancing the science of forensic DNA analysis.
The Forensic Toxicology Unit has undergone a significant transition over the past decades offering services that include the latest drug screens using both GC-MS and LC-MS. The Firearms Unit, likewise, has integrated new technology and methodologies to improve the science of forensic firearm examination and is specially engaged in the training of law enforcement personnel throughout the county.
The Crime Scene Unit in the Technical Services Division was staffed by sworn deputies in the mid-1980’s and eventually, civilians became responsible for examining evidence for latent prints. In 1999, the Technical Services Division retained its name but officially became a part of the Crime Laboratory Accreditation program. The incorporation of the Crime Scene Unit into the Crime Laboratory Accreditation process was a natural and important addition as the unit transitioned from all-sworn to all-civilian. The CSI Unit worked diligently to become one of the first ASCLD-LAB accredited CSI Units in the United States in 2006.
The Latent Print Unit was formed within the Crime Laboratory and ASCLD-LAB accreditation was achieved in 2001. The services provided by the Forensic ID Unit include a Tenprint section which essentially enters fingerprints from arrestees, the Fingerprint section which is an offsite service that takes court-ordered prints and serves the citizens who need fingerprints for employment and the Latent ID section responsible for examining crime scene prints.
In 2021, the entire Crime Laboratory moved to a new building named the Forensic Sciences and Technology Facility. This building currently houses all of the Crime Laboratory units as well as the Evidence Unit in one state-of-the-art facility. Ultimately, the laboratory attained accreditation under ISO 17025:2017 standards shortly after undertaking the move to this new building.
Today, the Crime Laboratory is a forensic science service provider with the combined services of Toxicology, Firearms, Drug Chemistry, Fire Debris, Biology, Latent Prints, Fingerprints, Tenprint and Crime Scene Investigation for the citizens of Palm Beach County including direct services to various city-based law enforcement agencies, the county school systems, federal agencies when requested, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Fish and Wildlife Department. This is all accomplished with over 90 scientists, examiners, investigators and support staff of which many are nationally board certified in their scientific specialty. The Crime Laboratory receives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in federal grants to upgrade instruments and validate new technologies. The PBSO forensic scientists routinely publish scientific results in peer-reviewed journals, present novel technical methodologies at national and international meetings and are active members of national, state and local scientific advisory boards. Databases “hits” have been realized in the Firearms Unit, the DNA Unit and the Latent Print Unit which have provided and continue to provide important investigative leads for law enforcement.
The PBSO Crime Laboratory has been providing the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice System with essential forensic services for over 50 years. During that period, it has significantly increased not only in size but in the variety, speed and sophistication of its services, as well as the ability to credibly demonstrate the quality of its work. The excellent reputation of the units in the Crime Laboratory has been earned through the dedication of the staff, the support of PBSO law enforcement management and the funding from the Palm Beach County Commissioners.