Eva Marie Lewis King, who graduated with an MS in Biomedical Sciences in 2015, has worked for the Milwaukee Crime Lab for the past 20 years, working first in controlled substances, then toxicology and now DNA.
Currently serving as a DNA lab supervisor in Milwaukee, Lewis King also works as Interim Laboratory Manager at the Wausau Laboratory and continues to streamline forensic science and reduce the overwhelming backlog that has resulted from an upsurge in DNA evidence.
The use of DNA in forensic science
The Crime Laboratory Bureau, housed within the Wisconsin Department of Justice, has laboratories in Madison, Wausau and Milwaukee. The crime lab in Milwaukee is a full-service lab that provides analyses in trace chemistry, controlled substance, toxicology, DNA and forensic imaging, among other forensic disciplines.
DNA evidence has become a key tool for exonerating those wrongfully convicted of crimes and producing new leads in long unsolved crimes. There are now national, state and local databases of DNA samples taken from arrestees and convicted felons that are used by examiners to find investigative leads, or “hits,” as they are known in the profession. These investigative leads allow investigators to collect suspect standards for further DNA analysis for comparison to the forensic unknown that “hit.”
DNA profiling has skyrocketed in the last decade. Police have started leaning on it for even minor investigations, like burglaries, using DNA rather than (or in addition to) traditional fingerprint evidence. Consequently, Wisconsin found itself with a substantial backlog of DNA cases, waiting to be processed by the Crime Labs.
Combatting a population health crisis
The onset of these DNA backlogs developed a public safety and population health crisis. To respond to this compounding backlog, Lewis King developed a method for using a population health framework to examine the ways that crime lab policies and programs contribute to the outcomes of case completion time, backlog status and the percent of cases completed annually.
Through her research, Lewis King was able to investigate the role of various determinants, such as access to the lab, personnel behaviors, case submission and completion rates and case offense type as contributors to the backlog. Identifying these determinants has led to changing the crime lab system.
This project was overseen by the Dean of the College of Health Sciences, Ron A. Cisler, PhD, professor in the Department of Health Informatics and Administration, affiliate professor with the UWM Zilber School of Public Health, and professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences for the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.
Speaking highly of Lewis King’s research, Cisler stated, “The kind of work that she is doing brings to light the significant impact that our criminal justice system has on population health and safety. By addressing the weakest links in the chain, Eva is streamlining the process of how justice is served. She is making a tangible difference in people’s lives.”