Blue Line

Colagiacomo – Public Private Forensics mix.txt

September 30, 2011  By Nancy Colagiacomo

Clearly budgets are shrinking but we need to look at all the issues before moving ahead. 

Public-private partnerships (PPP) refer to almost any form of joint activity between government and non-governmental organizations working towards a common goal while sharing the risks and benefits involved.

This kind of alliance is not new, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have long been trying to reduce the national debt and find new forms of service delivery through subcontracting while ensuring  quality at the best possible cost. Attempts were made with privatizing water and prisons.

The PPP could allow a reduction in costs, relieve the government of certain services, offer the possibility of  better use of resources and find new solutions if they are properly managed and remain in a legal framework.


Undoubtedly an alliance between the private and public sector is an attractive alternative even in policing; this may even establish a better balance between reactive and proactive aspects of police work while engaging the community. 

[ Great Britain Experience ]

In 2003, the British government announced plans for possible privatization of the forensic science service, (FSS) and  in December 2010 intentions of closing the FSS as of march 2012 are quite real. The outcome remains to be seen, but many questions must be addressed before  privatizing the Québec Forensic Lab.

[ The situation in Quebec ]
The laboratory serves all police services in Quebec and hires over 125 highly skilled and unionized workers. 

The laboratory is subject to a set of laws, regulations and administrative rules standardizing the use of human, financial and material information. The laboratory is also subject to the rules of the Treasury Board, the Office of Human Resources, and the Société immobilière du Québec, the Comptroller of Finance and the Ministry of Public Security.

The services offered by the laboratory of Quebec lab are essentially those of the FSS and their biggest users are the police in the province of Quebec. 

The laboratory’s mission is to support  police investigations, the administration of justice and provide impartial expertise in: forensic science,  analyse the presence of drugs, medicines,other volatile substances in the blood or other biological matter in cases of sexual assaults, murders, suspicious deaths. The lab is also responsible for the reconstruction of crime scenes, ballistic testing,  maintaining DNA databases, and providing expert testimony in court.

In Quebec, the realization of the forensic PPP raises a number of questions about the possible privatization of the Laboratory of Forensic Science.  

[ Issues surrounding the change of status ]

The dissemination of sensitive information such as the national database of DNA raises ethical considerations. Potential job losses of the laboratory staff for the benefit of private enterprise. Financial interests of private enterprises versus public interest. Does the transfer of knowledge from public to private risk to be compromised? Will the change in status affect the transparency and ethics of the laboratory staff? The credibility of expert witnesses spreads over several years, this expertise is almost nonexistent in the private sector.
The union is greatly opposed to public-private partnerships arguing that the quality and availability of services provided and the relationship of trust between the laboratory and the courts will be reduced thus compromising the criminal investigations. Essentially these concerns will have to be studied before a partnership is conceived.

Frédéric Le Cren author of Partnership: Between Utopia and Reality (2004) discusses essential elements to be present for a successful public-private partnership, the partners must have a certain level of trust and openness and share a common project/goal, the acceptance by each partner of their specific expertise, their respective capabilities, acceptance of criticism and the existence of new channels of communication between partners.

Forensic science plays a central role in detecting and deterring crimes.  The public interest must be above all other interests; transparency and credibility are key of the elements to the success of PPP. To facilitate accountability and quality control, performance measures and indicators must be accurately expressed.The level of expertise and know-how of the laboratory must remain at the forefront of the latest innovations in various fields, scientific accuracy can be challenged at all times during testimony. 

Management has a valuable role to play, the clash of cultures and managerial methods are quite different, a balance must exist between the parties in order to create a relationship of trust to better handle ethical issues. 

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