Crime Labs Suffer Under Backlogs and Budget Crunches, Help on the Way
Towns and cities in Arizona are refusing to pay the state for forensic tests that used to be done for free. After the Arizona state legislature cut the state crime lab’s budget by half in July, lab officials announced that they would bill law enforcement departments for forensic tests, hoping to collect $2.5 million this fiscal year. But law enforcement officials say they
can’t afford the fees for testing
Police in Douglas, a border town in southeastern Arizona, owe about $23,000 in lab fees. To pay the Department of Public Safety would mean Douglas police could not hire an officer or buy a squad car, Chief Alberto Melis said. The department has four vacancies.
Melis of Douglas said, "For me to come up with this money, I'm going to have to do without something. In a profession where 95 percent of your cost is personnel, I might not be able to hire somebody."
Officers in Payson, Arizona, said they are sending less evidence for testing, which is slowing down investigations.
Detective Matt Van Camp said he uses every aspect of the crime lab, from firearm testing to its criminalists.
“We used to send everything, but now we have to screen what we send out automatically,” Van Camp said. “This limits the tools available for the prosecutor and police.”
Prosecutors may now have to decide if they want to go to trial before they have the necessary evidence in hand.
“This makes the prosecutor’s job harder,” he said. “Crime labs also prove people innocent, not just guilty.”
Read the full story here
. (Payson Roundup, 11/4/08)
Lab backlogs are hurting police investigations in Texas, as well. Results from state labs can take months.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley explains that in today's 'CSI world' where jurors see scientific evidence easily gleaned from most crime scenes in TV dramas, they expect to see the same in court cases. But because there are so many requests for testing, and too few state technicians to keep up with demand, he says, "When you ask for DNA testing and results, you're buying in to a six month to one year delay in your case."
Read the full story here
. (Key TV, 11/06/08)
Federal assistance should help to defuse the crisis somewhat in Arizona and Texas. The two states, along with Washington, Kentucky and Virginia, recently received a combined $7.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to help with DNA testing in serious felony cases. The DOJ’s grant program requires states to comply with standards for storage and testing of evidence, and also to significantly reduce backlogs through improved training and technology.
Read more about the DOJ grant program here
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