OPP open new regional forensic investigative unit in Mount Forest

Forensic investigations in Wellington County stepped into the 21st century with the opening of a new, modern forensic investigative facility here on July 5.

The unit replaces antiquated facilities housed in the main OPP building at the north end of town and will have a team of four constables headed up by blood specialist Sergeant Trevor McLeod. The new Mount Forest facility will also serve OPP detachments in Grey, Bruce, Huron and Perth counties.

OPP commissioner Chris Lewis told those at the opening that previously evidence collected from crime scenes was stored in a fridge where officers kept their lunches. He added with a greater need to secure and protect crime scene evidence collected, it was necessary to build a  stand-alone facility.

The unit includes a lab with three biohazard suites, a chemical room, photo studio, multimedia room for training and an evidence examination room. It also has a boardroom for training and meetings and a filing room equipped with a high density storage system designed to store fingerprints.

“This is a highly skilled team (and) the work is very important,” Lewis said. “We can deliver the best forensic material available. Having modern equipment and resources is important in this field.”

Lewis also noted the large area covered by the unit.

“It’s larger than some countries,” he said. “Our units can be called out to serve anywhere in Ontario.”

OPP forensic identification services are responsible for collecting physical evidence at crime scenes. The evidence is stored and analyzed at the unit and prepared for court use. Fingerprints are collected, stored and compared, substances are identified, photographs of crime scenes are taken and analyzed, and blood and other sources of DNA are collected.

Constable Jeff Myatt said the new facility’s work area is card accessible by only those working there.  

Confined accessibility is necessary to protect evidence from potential cross contamination and to protect officers not assigned to the unit. The evidence can include HIV-contaminated items, so it is necessary to limit those handling material.

The building also has its own laundry facility where officers can clean specialty clothing used at crime scenes. Previously officers took their clothing home to clean, said Myatt, who has served in the unit for 11 years.

The Mount Forest facility is one of 18 new OPP detachments, regional headquarters and forensic identification units being constructed in 16 communities across the province. Eight will be completed this year.

Shield Infrastructure Partnership has been contracted to design, build, finance and maintain the 18 facilities for a 30-year period. The Mount Forest facility was built to meet environmentally sustainable construction practices and energy efficient designs set out by the Canada Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental standards.

OPP deputy minister John Gunn said the company is a private sector enterprise with no public funding required to build the new facilities.

“No provincial money was invested, everything is privately funded,

 Gunn said. “It’s the equivalent of having a mortgage. This allowed us to take a number of projects like this and cost bundle them together.”

All the new forensic buildings will have the same design to keep costs down, according to the deputy minister. Each officer is trained in various forensic disciplines including fingerprint and footwear comparison, bloodstain pattern analysis and crime scene examination.