Police departments nationwide are suffering the repercussions of backlogs and slowdowns in crime labs, due to the overwhelming number of samples being submitted for testing, growth in state databases (which requires testing and storing more samples) and the costs of conducting complicated forensic tests. Delays in DNA testing can cause leads in investigations to go cold, can keep innocent people incarcerated longer than necessary and can lead to forensic error.
Officials in Wyoming have begun to outsource DNA tests to private labs, finding the labs can get testing done more quickly. But the backlog hasn’t been erased. Dan Zivkovich, police chief in Jackson, Wyoming, said that the net effect of lab delays “does have an impact. Not only does it affect solving; it also affects what direction you go in eliminating or including suspects.”
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. (Casper Tribune, 10/01/07)
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions are experimenting with plans to increase their labs’ capabilities. North Carolina, Colorado and California have all developed crime lab expansion plans that aim to drastically reduce backlogs and expand the nature of DNA testing.
• North Carolina completed construction this month on an expanded crime lab. This expansion effort aims to reduce the severe backlog in North Carolina labs, which included thousands of rape cases. With a larger staff and improved technology, the lab is now able to take every rape case submitted.
• The Denver police crime lab will undergo a $40 million expansion project to improve its facilities. The lab currently faces severe space shortages and unsafe working conditions, according to
an article in The Rocky Mountain News
• The San Diego County Sherriff’s Department is responding to the ever-increasing demand for DNA testing by creating a new rapid response DNA team. This team, set to begin work in January 2008, will allow San Diego to expand its use of DNA testing from homicides and sexual assaults to other crimes including burglaries and auto theft.
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