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City of Austin Forensic Science Violent Crime and Opioid Reduction Program

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $408,981)

The City of Austin, applicant agency and fiscal agent, is a home-rule municipality situated in Travis, Williamson, and Hays Counties of Texas and located just under 200 miles from the U.S. – Mexico border, northeast on Interstate 35. The Austin Police and Forensic Science Departments (FSD) serve over a million persons residing within 326 square miles. Increases in opioid and synthetic drug activity, coupled with the pandemic and the rise in violent crime, are absolutely straining local forensic resources. In 2022, the FSD completed over 2,000 crime scene field investigations, processed over 7,000 forensic analysis requests, and managed over a million items of forensic evidence and property. In reviewing 2023 data, the FSD anticipates that outputs will unfortunately exceed previous years. The goal is to show a demonstrated improvement over current local forensic science services, specifically within the crime scene, firearms and toolmarks, and seized drug disciplines. This application requests $500,000 for a three-year performance period. Proposed activities: taking a  three-prong approach we will enhance crime scene capability, expand firearms capacity, and anticipate and prepare for the next synthetic opioid threat. The project leverages emerging technologies in crime scene collection and interrogation. These include 3D Scanners with geospatial technology that increase the speed, accuracy, reliability, and impact of crime scene data, and Vacuum Metal Deposition technology with chambers large enough to rapidly, automatically, and more thoroughly interrogate latent prints on large automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns recovered from major crime scenes. Custom and advanced training in liquid and gas chromatography mass spectrometry techniques and equipment maintenance will position our drug chemists for early identification of emerging synthetic opioids affecting the Austin area, and provide timely actionable intelligence needed for our law enforcement and public health response. Outcomes: scanners will improve accuracy of on-scene diagramming, increase the number of scenes for which we can offer this service by up to 30%, and will enhance contextual scene information valuable to investigators and justice system stakeholders; the VMD purchase will increase the number and value of suitable latent prints available on cold case evidence as well as large firearms and more challenging substrates; the deionizer will provide an additional layer of safety for analysts with potential fentanyl exposure and will increase the accuracy of seized drug evidence measurement; and the training is essential to increase the capability of our key analysts and to maximize the value of the laboratory instrumentation.

Date Created: September 25, 2023