The King County Regional AFIS Program is a levy funded program that provides staff and technology to support criminal fingerprint identification and DNA evidence processing services to law enforcement agencies throughout the County. The program’s latent fingerprint staff recovers, preserves, and examines fingerprint evidence from crime scenes and uses the information gathered to identify criminal suspects and testify to findings in court.
The AFIS Latent Processing Lab and Sheriff’s Office Photo Lab are critical components of the AFIS Program. The processing lab examines and processes evidence for the development of latent prints using physical, chemical and fluorescent development of fingerprint evidence. A variety of chemical processing procedures are employed including cyanoacrylate vapor exposure, DFO dye staining, ninhydrin graphite powder dusting and exposure to laser and alternate light sources to enhance the viability of latent fingerprints.
The Sheriff’s Office Photo Laboratory provides digital and film photography as well as processing and print production for forensic and crime scene analysis. They also train officers and examiners on crime scene and evidence photography.
Training is an important component of the AFIS program. The AFIS team trains over 600 deputies in King County who do their own crime scene processing. In addition, staff are continually trained to stay updated on the latest technologies.
The reception lobby provides a secure environment for logging in evidence delivered by law enforcement personnel from various jurisdictions. Durable countertops are designed to withstand heavy, sharp objects. All surfaces are easy to clean while supporting the client’s request for a non-institutional environment.
The AFIS program’s latent fingerprint processing laboratory currently serves 37 cities as well as unincorporated King County. At only 1,200 square feet in area, it was outdated and undersized for the program’s workload, presenting efficiency, employee safety, and evidence security concerns. These inefficiencies made it difficult for lab staff to keep up with caseloads and crime scene field responses. The HVAC system and other infrastructure was inadequate. The lab also did not have a vehicle processing facility. Vehicle processing had to be completed at the crime scene under temporary cover.
The Sheriff’s Photo Lab and AFIS administrative staff were located several miles away from the lab requiring staff to travel between sites. Training facilities were also located off site. They were undersized and shared with other departments, creating scheduling difficulties. Training needed to occur at the AFIS Lab due to chemicals that are used, however there was not space in the lab to accommodate visitors.
The 2013-2018 AFIS Levy identified up to $11.5M for a replacement facility to house the AFIS lab, Sheriff’s Photo Lab, all administrative staff and a dedicated training facility.
In the secure latent print processing lab, materials from multiple cases are examined, tested and processed on large work surfaces that ensure chain of evidence security. Color corrected lighting supports analysis and minimizes eye fatigue. Lab workstations can be easily
reconfigured to meet future needs.
The design process began with a three-day charette which included AFIS staff, Crime Lab Design representatives and the Buffalo Design team. We toured the existing facility to review processes and equipment, discussed takeaways from the labs that AFIS staff had toured, refined goals and program criteria and worked on organizational concepts for the new facility. Goals for the project included:
• Security initiatives for staff, evidence and the facilities.
• Provide opportunities for staff engagement; together and with visitors.
• Improve the customer experience.
• Improve the work environment in labs, administrative areas and public use spaces.
• Focus on staff well-being.
Employee safety and comfort initiatives
Principles of universal design, light, flexible systems furnishings and access to daylight and integrated graphic art make this a stress reducing environment for clinicians working on intense criminal cases.
Lighting in the lab provides both indirect and direct illumination from pendant mounted LED linear glass tubes. All lighting throughout the space is dimmable and controlled by sensors.
Flexibility initiatives and anticipated lifespan of the facility
Forensic laboratories are evolving at a rapid rate. The development of new laboratory procedures, changes in crime trends and political considerations all influence the type and the quantities of evidence being processed and associated laboratory work processes. As a result, forensic science laboratories frequently experience a need for growth and change over their lifespan. Both the Forensic Lab and the Photo Lab are designed with enough space to accommodate significant growth in operations. Adjacent tenant space on the floor can also be used for expansion if the need arises.
The client desired a colorful, non-institutional lab environment to provide visual relief from detailed evidence processing. Full height acrylic wall protection uses a Northwest palette in a custom design created by the architects and their clients.
Lab stations are designed to be used by several technicians working on smaller projects, but they are large enough so that an entire station can be taken over to process larger cases. The freestanding tables and wheeled storage pedestals that make up each station can also be easily reconfigured.
All office furnishings are free standing and can easily be reconfigured. Training rooms include light weight stacking chairs and flip top tables on wheels allowing for quick room changes.
Mechanical, electrical and plumbing system design accommodates future growth.
The King County Regional AFIS Program provides training and continuing education classes to officers from 37 different jurisdictions. The space can be configured to accommodate large groups, and regional or national conferences.
Challenge 1: The existing 3 story office building, constructed in 1990 was not designed to house a modern, flexible forensic laboratory. The need to create a flexible, secure facility, with appropriate ventilation, temperature control and electrical capacity represented a significant design challenge.
Fortunately, much of the building was vacant, allowing the design team to fully investigate existing conditions on the first floor project site and the two floors above. New mechanical and electrical systems were designed for the lab, independent from other building systems.
Challenge 2: The office building was designed with a fire-rated exit corridor and lobby bisecting the first floor. Because this corridor could not be economically relocated it presented a challenge to space planning an efficient, secure environment.
Through close collaboration with lab staff, the design team was able to locate lab functions, training areas and archival storage effectively, using the corridor and lobby to zone secure and public access spaces to increase security and turn a building impediment into an asset.
Administrative support, conference spaces and break areas provide access to daylight and nature. They provide opportunities for social interaction and relief from the stress of working on intense criminal cases.
Sustainability and energy saving initiatives
First and foremost, this project is developed in an existing building, maintaining existing building structure and envelope, for an incredible savings in embodied carbon. The new AFIS lab received LEED® Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council® in November 2021. While clinical and forensic laboratories traditionally require significant energy consumption to maintain a safe environment for technicians and staff performing investigations, King County’s new AFIS Lab represents an achievable alternative. Thoughtful design of environmental systems and controls reduce energy consumption significantly without compromising safety or performance. Particularly notable for a laboratory facility, the project achieved all indoor air quality related credits while removing point source and other chemical contaminants. Lighting energy consumption is significantly reduced by taking advantage of daylighting and designing testing and analysis spaces in collaboration with end users. The existing building’s site design incorporates features to encourage alternative transportation options, increase native landscaping and contain storm water runoff. Additional notable LEED points include shower and bicycle storage facilities, and nearly 90 percent of construction waste was diverted for reuse and recycling.
The new lab also brings a focus on wellness, incorporating areas for focus, spaces that foster socialization and friendship, translucency to allow flow of natural light throughout the space and access to nature. All workstations include adjustable height tables and the space offers opportunities for working in a variety of environments so that staff are not tethered to a lab station or to workstations on the administrative floor.
Sustainability increasingly means also addressing equity and inclusion aspects of the design and construction team. Innovation credits include Social Equity in the Construction Team, showing apprentice labor and prevailing wages for all partners in the construction team. The Mechanical and LEED consultants are a JUST certified firm, demonstrating commitment to diversity and equity within the firm and community.
Western Ventures Construction, general contractor
Crime Lab Design (CLD), lab consultant
FSi Consulting Engineers, mechanical engineer and LEED
Säzän Group, electrical engineer / information & communication technology (ICT)
Chudgar Engineering, structural engineer
DEA, civil engineer / landscape architecture
Project Delivery Analysts, cost analysts
O’Brien360, sustainability consultants
AFIS photography ©Francis Zera / zeraphoto.com
LEED®, and its related logo, is a trademark owned by the U.S. Green Building Council® and is used with permission.