The Torrance Police Department unveiled a new forensics laboratory Wednesday, filled with state-of-the-art equipment that officials said would expedite their analysis of evidence and better assist with investigations. 

Dozens of civic leaders, community members and law enforcement officials gathered at the Police Department to tour the new $1.5-million facility — a bright, gleaming space filled with cameras, computer screens and "CSI"-reminiscent machines with names such as the "fingerprint chamber."

"This will allow us to be more efficient in what we're doing," said Donna Brandelli, the supervisor of the forensics unit. "It will allow us to process more cases than we've ever been able to process before, using some of the highest technology that's available."

The lab is a far cry from the old equipment the department had, Brandelli said. After she came to the unit in 2010 from the L.A. County sheriff's forensics division, she recalled, she used items such as a steam iron and a fish tank to examine evidence.

"We were working kind of in the dinosaur age before," she said.

"It took hours to process a gun when it should have taken minutes," Brandelli said after the tour. "We could process it, but it was going to take us all day — literally, all day."

Now, Brandelli heads an all-female staff of six — self-nicknamed the "Fabulous Forensic Females" — who collect and process evidence for crimes ranging from murders to break-ins. They also assist other agencies — often limited by a lack of personnel or equipment — with analysis, Brandelli said.

The Torrance forensic unit is made up of civilians rather than sworn officers, a shift the Police Department made in 2010.

In those three years, Police Chief John Neu told the crowd Wednesday, the unit has collected thousands of fingerprints and DNA samples, and helped identify more than 500 suspects. He called those numbers "a glimpse of the immediate success that we've had and why we needed to expand the lab."

Funding for the facility came from asset forfeiture money, Sgt. Robert Watt said: "The criminals ended up paying."

Though DNA will continue to be processed at the county's lab, the Torrance facility gives its own analysts the ability to examine fingerprints and blood samples on site. That, officials said, will help expedite investigations.

"We're able to process evidence quicker and take people to jail faster, and that's huge," Watt said. "And the work that they've done with a smaller facility ... now it's even going to get better."

 

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