On “CSI” and other TV dramas, it all looks so easy, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Investigators discover fingerprints, hairs, blood and other trace evidence. They rush the evidence to the lab where scientists drop whatever else they were doing and quickly put the forensic samples into a computer. Eureka! Suspect identified. Case closed. Roll credits. In real life, there often isn’t any trace evidence at crime scenes. Even when there is, labs rarely if ever immediately identify a suspect because so many cases are awaiting analysis.
For years, the Allegheny County crime laboratory has been so backlogged with fingerprint cases, about 300 in all, that depending upon the crime, it can take up to a year for a latent print to be analyzed. Exasperated, the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association has set up its own fingerprint identification program, thereby bypassing the crime lab entirely. Funded by a $35,000 grant secured by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., the pilot project thus far includes 14 suburban departments that have officers trained in forensics. So successful has the program been — about 40 cases have been undertaken — that the time between submitting fingerprints and getting them analyzed has dropped to as little as a week, and sometimes, days.