The director of the Arkansas State Crime Lab is set to retire at the end of the month

State officials announced Monday that Kermit Chanel, director of the Arkansas State Crime Lab since 2007, plans to retire from his position at the end of next month.

Arkansas Secretary of Public Safety Col. Mike Hager confirmed in a press release that Chanel will be retiring effective August 31. Channell, 61, will be replaced by JR Howard in the acting position.

Howard, who has come out of retirement to lead the lab, will serve in his second stint as director of the lab. He previously held that position from April 2004 to May 2007, when he became a US Marshal for the Eastern District of Arkansas. He also served more than 34 years with the Arkansas State Police, including 16 months as director starting in 2011.

“The State of Arkansas is indebted to Kermit for his many years of service and patronage of the crime lab during an important time,” Hager said in the press release. “We appreciate that JR has again agreed to take a break from his retirement to lead the ASCL until a new manager is selected.”

Attempts to reach Channell for comment were unsuccessful.

His LinkedIn account was updated on Monday to reflect his retirement status but that he is “open for business”.

Chanel’s retirement from that position comes 36 years after he first joined the medical examiner’s office in 1987 after graduating from Elon College in Elon, NC.

After a brief departure, he returned in 1990, serving as a forensic serologist before being selected to create and lead the state’s first forensic DNA division in 1996. Forensic serology—which deals with the identification and characterization of biological samples and evidence, such as blood, saliva, and other body fluids— And DNA analysis are closely interrelated sciences.

Prior to Channell’s appointment as director of the State Crime Laboratory, he served two years as the laboratory’s director of scientific operations beginning in 2005, a position in which he directed its science departments. He has also served as a DNA Supervisor, Technical Lead, and CODIS State Manager. CODIS stands for Combined DNA Index System, a national database of DNA profiles.

In 1997, Channell was part of creating the Arkansas DNA Database Program.

Channell and the state’s crime lab have received many commendations in the past few years.

In 2020, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors presented Chanel with the Briggs-White Award for Excellence through Leadership in the Department of Forensic Science.

The Crime Lab has also won the Foresight Maximus Award, given to labs operating at 90% (or better) of peak efficiency, three years in a row.

In early 2022, Chanel told the Phoenix-based consulting firm Smith Group about the challenges the crime lab faced.

“With forensic science, there is always a growing need, and our building is almost 40 years old,” Chanel said. “I think we’re in a place in Arkansas where we’ll take a look and figure out how we’re going to move forward in time.”

The facility, located at 3 Natural Resources Drive in West Little Rock, is at its capacity, and there are no practical options for renovation or expansion of the site, according to Smith’s group.

“The building as it stands today is constantly affected by outdated mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, inadequate structural capabilities and inflexible spaces,” said Smith’s group.

“These challenges impact efforts to improve workflow, the ability to increase department productivity (through additional devices and equipment) and in some cases safety and security risks (lag intake, ventilation and electrical systems).”

Smith’s group said a facility of about 190,000 square feet would be required to meet the state’s needs through 2051.

“You have to have enough room to grow,” Chanel told lawmakers at a hearing last year. “With the changes in forensic science technology, you have to have all the infrastructure in place to support that.

“Honestly, if you gave me 20 people today, I wouldn’t have the capacity to house them,” Chanel said.

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