Former state police crime labs’ director advises state police to become independent of crime labs

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The former Michigan crime laboratories’ director is calling on the Michigan State Police to permanently give up their control of the state’s crime labs.

Former MSP Forensic Science Director John Collins exclusively shared his Jan. 25 letter to MSP Director Colonel Kriste Etue with FOX 17 which asks the MSP to become independent of their crime labs.

“It really comes down to respecting what science is and recognizing that science and policing are two very different businesses,” said Collins.

Collins served as MSP-FSD director between 2010 and 2012 when he resigned partially because of the political culture of the state police he said that oversteps the integrity of science in the labs. When FOX 17 first reported on a controversy involving the agency’s new protocol for reporting THC in marijuana extract cases as “origin unknown” leading to felony charges, Collins said in his experience working as director is was “like a non-stop political game.”

In Collins’ two-page letter to Col. Etue he wrote, “…In my experience, a lack of care of respect for the scientific enterprise has pervaded the executive command of the Michigan State Police for decades.”

His advisement calling for the independence of crime labs is similar to the federal complaints several defense attorneys filed last December against the MSP to the National Institute of Justice demanding an investigation into marijuana misreporting allegations as well as independence of the state police from the labs.

“The higher you go up into the command of the Michigan State Police, what I experienced directly, is that you lose the respect and the care for a culture that allows science to flourish,” said Collins.

“It’s not about the character of the individuals that are in the state police,” he said “I believe it’s systemic, and I believe it’s political and I believe it’s cultural.”

To Collins, writing this letter was largely personal. In 2013 he lost his younger cousin William Kochis, 29, to a horrific crash. Collins wrote, “The Michigan State Police failed to ensure that science be given the best possible chance to reveal the truth about what happened to my cousin.”

Collins relived how a state trooper failed to get a search warrant for the at-fault driver’s blood, which led to a hospital’s blood test showing traces of cocaine in the driver’s blood to not be admissible in court. The driver was charged with a civil infraction instead of a potential felony.

Now Collins is working to revise the Michigan vehicle code with Senate Bill 153, to make urine and blood tests admissible under Michigan law to enable prosecutors the consideration of felony charges when due.

“These [crime labs] aren’t just facilities that are off that we don’t need to think about, they affect people’s safety every single day,” said Collins. “Right now, I don’t think that they are administered well, I think there needs to be improvement.”

Officials with the MSP completely disagree. When asked for comment, the agency gave FOX 17 Col. Etue’s Jan. 29 letter in response to Collins, which wrote: “I have the utmost confidence in both the leadership and staff of our forensic science division, and the department as a whole, to hold true to scientific enterprise,” said Col. Etue.

Meanwhile, the NIJ received several defense attorneys’ federal complaints asking that the MSP become independent of its crime labs, and continues to review the allegations.

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