By Savitre “Rapture” Schaefferkoetter, Staff Writer
For this month’s issue, I interviewed not just one, but two women professionals who work in the forensic DNA field: Katie Fehr, forensic DNA analyst, and Alexia Jones, forensic DNA laboratory technician.
These two women work side-by-side at the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory (PCFL) but have different responsibilities. Jones, as a DNA technician, lays the groundwork for the DNA analysts, so they may perform their jobs to the best of their ability. The reagents (chemical solutions) and instruments that are used for analysis must be checked on a regular basis. Jones also maintains the upkeep of the DNA lab, takes inventory of the supplies, and orders them as needed. Fehr, as a DNA analyst, will analyze evidence submitted by local agencies for the presence of bodily fluids or other potentially DNA-containing materials. From her analysis, the aim is to develop a DNA profile well enough to match the victims or suspects involved in the case.
The DNA lab sits separately from the rest of PCFL, which is helpful, considering access is very restricted. All potential contact could possibly leave DNA, which in turn, could potentially contaminate a case. Contamination is strictly not allowed in the DNA lab because sources may include DNA from other coworkers, whose profiles are readily accessible and may be ruled out in a case. The lab must be decontaminated on a regular basis, and the DNA staff must be adequately covered with personal protective equipment at all times in the lab.
Fehr and Jones decided early on that forensic DNA was the field for them. Fehr recalls a life-changing experience with DNA extraction from strawberries, while Jones decided that working in lab forensics, as opposed to field investigation, was her niche to help bring justice to victims of crime. Fehr received her bachelor’s degree in forensic science-biochemistry with a minor in chemistry from the University of Central Florida. She is currently obtaining her master’s degree in DNA and serology from the University of Florida. Jones obtained her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in biology from Florida A&M University.
As women, they have generally experienced fair treatment, and in the rare case of harassment, it is an issue respected and dealt with properly by fair-minded supervisors. The DNA section of PCFL is fairly represented by both genders. However, Fehr reports that women were the majority at a recently attended DNA conference. Jones suggests that more programs and events should be in place to educate and recruit more women and minorities into their field.
Jones is a sister of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. From her time spent as an active member, she developed skills of leadership, character and self-motivation that helped her succeed professionally. Fehr joined the criminal justice pre-professional fraternity, Lambda Alpha Epsilon, to understand all criminal justice fields available in addition to DNA. Interestingly, from a staff of about 25, five people are affiliated with Greek-lettered organizations and have become members of PCFL.
DNA is often one of the first concepts the average person would wonder about in terms of forensic science, and no surprise, since a large variety of forensic shows will weave it into their storylines. That said, Fehr and Jones have a few myths to clarify. The fancy, blue UV lights used in TV “labs” and the conveniently closed cases within 25 minutes do not exist in real life. Also, touch DNA is a valuable tool in solving cases, but it is not the end-all, be-all, nor does it confirm who the last person was at a specific place and time.
It is my honor that I was able to interview both of my colleagues and find out more about the other side of the lab. My series continues next month, as there is still more to be learned.
Featured Image: Special to The Jade Times
- Schaefferkoetter, Savitre. (2016, March 26). Pinellas County Forensic Science Center. Retrieved from http://www.pinellascounty.org/forensics/fl_discp.htm.
- Special to The Jade Times