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Customized HR Strengthens Critical Occupations Like Forensic Science

By: , Posted on: April 5, 2018


I was laughed at.

How could I be so careless as to suggest that strong HR is a recipe for healthy organizational cultures?  Did they not believe me, or was the statement so obvious as to be ridiculous?

Both, actually.

Hosting an evening HR troubleshooting session at the 2018 annual meeting of the Society of Forensic Toxicologists in Boca Raton, Florida, I quickly learned that many in attendance harbored feelings of distrust toward their HR departments.

One gentleman grabbed a microphone and vented his lingering frustrations.  “HR really has no positive impact,” he said.  “Our top management is dysfunctional and HR simply channels that dysfunction onto the employees.”

His observations resonated with me.  During my 20-plus years in forensic science, I too suffered mightily under leadership regimes that lacked both vision and integrity.  At times, they were even abusive.  To me and my coworkers, HR was simply the liaison between employees and the upper command, but were largely impotent as agents of positive change and improved organizational health.

In recent years, the improvement of forensic science in our societal pursuit of justice has become a priority.  Unfortunately, the most well-funded initiatives focus excessively on expansions of scientific and technological capacity. What forensic science needs most is under-emphasized – massive improvements in how people are managed and supported on a daily basis.

My new book, HR Management in the Forensic Science Laboratory: A 21st Century Approach to Effective Crime Lab Leadership, was a labor of both love and urgency – love for the profession of forensic science with an urgency to showcase how the promise of HR, as I explain in the book, can transform even the most troubled, under-performing laboratory.

In writing the book, I found the first chapter to be the most challenging, so I wrote it last.  In it, I attempt to waken those in the forensic science community who aren’t fully aware of the conditions that are holding them back, or of the rewards that improved HR practices can bring in the future.

“Of course, the vast majority of forensic science professionals will have no reason to suspect that they are being under-served,” I wrote.  “They are not in the HR business and cannot be expected to have the training or education with which to form a nuanced opinion about how their HR needs are being addressed, if at all.  They simply get by with what they have, which seems to describe much of forensic science today.”

Although forensic science is admired by the public and respected for its ability to solve complex crimes, the people of forensic science have been starved of effective HR support for decades. Employee morale is often low.  Work demands are high. Compensation is below standard.

In a recent remuneration study, which I discuss in my book, respondents reported that wages, on average, fell approximately 6% below the expected cost of living for the locations in which the respondents worked.

Complicating the problem, or perhaps contributing to it, is the operation of many forensic science laboratories within police agencies. Forensic science has advanced to a point where it no longer resembles what it was in the early 1900s when police departments first began using science to solve crimes.  In those instances when forensic labs are controlled by police, the HR function is often geared exclusively for traditional law enforcement operations, not those of a scientific laboratory.

In forensic science, HR suffers from a lack of focus and, more stunningly, a lack of interest.  This must change if forensic science is to ever meet its fullest potential.  In my book, I’ve shined a bright light on the key challenges and opportunities that will either propel or limit forensic science on its journey through the 21st century.

Although my book holds much value for current and aspiring administrators of forensic science laboratories, I also hope it sets an example for other industries in need of a more engaged, responsive HR function that is customized to meet the needs of its beneficiaries.

Customized HR is relevant HR.  When industry and organizational trends unplug HR from the larger picture, as they have in forensic science, everyone suffers.  Reclaim the relevance of your HR function by reasserting your organization’s commitment to its industry, its customers, and its responsibilities.  Then, make sure everyone, including HR, understands their roles and commits to them without hesitation.






HR Management in the Forensic Science Laboratory: A 21st Century Approach to Effective Crime Lab Leadership is available now. For a limited time, you can read chapter 1 Forensic Science and the Promise of HR on ScienceDirect. You can also purchase the book on the Elsevier Store. Enter STC318 at the checkout for up to 30% discount!

About the Author

John Collins is among the most active and respected forensic science professionals in the United States. A prolific writer and speaker on contemporary forensic science practices, John has been a pioneering advocate for the improvement of leadership and HR practices in forensic science organizations. His educational workshops are among the most highly attended of any forensic science instructor in practice today, and his writings have had an unprecedented impact on modern forensic science policy in the United States and overseas. John is a member of the forensic science faculty at Michigan State University, and he also works as a high-stakes leadership consultant and executive coach at Critical Victories (, a company he founded to help people, teams, and organizations function more effectively in high-stakes, high-pressure environments. John has a master’s degree in Organizational Management and is formally recognized by the Society for Human Resource Management as a Senior Certified Professional. In 2013, John was honored by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors with the prestigious Briggs White Award in recognition for his expertise and outstanding contributions in the field of forensic science administration.


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Forensic Sciences

Forensic science is a key component of criminal investigation and civil law worldwide. This broad-based field ranges over topics as varied as DNA typing, osteology, neuropathology, psychology, crime scene photography, ballistics, criminal profiling, and more. Elsevier provides forensics publications that cover all these topics, written by top authorities, to students, professors, researchers, and professionals.