Make us your home page

National Forensic Science Technology Center

Nonprofit founded in 1995 and located in Largo • Employees: 58 • CEO: Kevin Lothridge • Grants: $24 million

National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo serves growing need

It's dark in here, but I think I'm standing in a mountain cave.

My assignment? In a matter of timed minutes, I must search the cave for evidence of bombs or cell phones used to trigger IEDs, improvised explosive devices that have proved so dangerous to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In truth, I'm in a windowless Largo warehouse where one of this year's top workplaces — the National Forensic Science Technology Center — provides forensic training scenarios ranging from mock (but realistic) terrorist caves, car bomb investigation scenes and multiroom apartments in need of CSI-like examination.

Customers range from the Department of Defense, law enforcement officers, medical examiners and specialty forensics workers. They come to sharpen their investigative skills under demanding field conditions and learn how to use advanced technologies for DNA and substance analysis. On a recent visit, a U.S. Army Crime Lab crew was in training on ballistics comparisons. The warehouse, tucked behind NFSTC's offices, includes its own firing range.

The company even brings in role-players, supplied by a Clearwater firm, to play dead in certain training scenarios.

"We've spent 14 years flying under the radar," said NFSTC chief executive Kevin Lothridge. Now he wants the 58-employee organization and its unusual mandate to bask a bit in the spotlight. From a staff of one and just $1,500 in startup funds in 1995, the center recently was the recipient of $24 million in grants.

"Why do people like working here? Because our jobs make a difference," Lothridge said. A prime example is the NFSTC's involvement in NamUs: the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. The free database serves as a relatively new tool for families of the missing. The system's made several matches recently, including reuniting a family with the remains of a body unidentified for more than 20 years.

All this at a business whose unofficial company mascot is Gumby: a salute to the need for everyone to be flexible.

Despite its title, which makes it sound like a federal agency, the nonprofit NFSTC depends heavily on government grants to fund the extensive range of training services it offers. Lothridge, 48, is well aware that the federal budget is going through rigorous cuts, so his management team remains highly focused on cost controls to allow many NFSTC training programs to remain free to state and local law enforcement.

One growth area Lothridge sees is bringing forensics training expertise to the increasingly turbulent southwest border with Mexico.

NFSTC uses a temp agency when hiring people. That way, the organization can test the employee's talent and compatibility without committing to the upfront expense of a full-time hire. One benefit of this hiring method? A 92 percent employee retention rate.

"There's nothing worse than not wanting to come to work," Lothridge said.

Especially when there are so many investigators to train and so many crimes to solve.

say about

"Every day is a new challenge and never routine! I am able to partner strategically with the leadership and have full empowerment to manage my unit as I see being most effective for the organization and team."

"I am allowed the flexibility to handle the tasks assigned to me in the most expedient manner with no interference from upper management."

"I'm doing what I do best."

"The people are great (friendly, helpful and talented) and the work is interesting, challenging and beneficial to the community."

"The people I work with are very easygoing, and have the utmost respect for individuals that work here. This is the first time in a long time I actually enjoy coming to work every day!"

"There is a tremendous amount of growth available, and I am gaining the experience I need to be successful."

National Forensic Science Technology Center in Largo serves growing need 04/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 2:40am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rick Scott appoints 'my friend,' Jimmy Patronis, as Florida CFO

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday appointed a long-time friend and political supporter, Jimmy Patronis, to replace Jeff Atwater as Florida's next chief financial officer, making him one of three members of the Cabinet that sets state policy on a wide range of issues. He'll take over Friday.

    Rick Scott appoints Jimmy Patronis (background) as CFO. [STEVE BOUSQUET | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. Local gas prices plummet as Fourth of July holiday travel approaches


    TAMPA — Local gas prices are enjoying an unseasonal dip around the $2 mark just in time for the hectic Fourth of July holiday travel weekend.

    The price of regular unleaded gasoline has dropped to $1.99 at a Rally station on Pasadena Ave. South and Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Air bag recalls, lawsuits lead Takata to file for bankruptcy


    Shattered by recall costs and lawsuits, Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. filed Monday for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., saying it was the only way it could keep on supplying replacements for faulty air bag inflators linked to the deaths of at least 16 people.

    Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. CEO Shigehisa Takada bows during a press conference in Tokyo on Monday. Takata has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of defective air bag inflators.
[(AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi]
  4. Airbag maker Takata bankruptcy filing expected in Japan, U.S.


    DETROIT — Japanese airbag maker Takata Corp. has filed for bankruptcy protection in Tokyo and the U.S., overwhelmed by lawsuits and recall costs related to its production of faulty air bag inflators.

  5. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]