Police crime lab supervisors are refusing some requests for genetic analysis because they are so overwhelmed and understaffed, the Los Angeles Times reports. “The demand outpaces the resources by such a phenomenal amount that every year that goes by we get pickier,” said Commander Brent Morris of the Ventura County, Ca., Sheriff’s Department.
Thirty scientists in the county process about 8,000 pieces of evidence each year in fields that include toxicology, firearms and fingerprint analysis. The fastest-growing section is forensic biology, where scientists examine blood, semen, and other bodily fluids for DNA. Six DNA analysts handle an average of 10 new cases each month while trying to make a dent in a backlog of about 270 cases, each of which may involve testing several samples. Waits of six to eight weeks are common, although a test can be done in about a week. “We do the best we can,” Morris said. “But needless to say, we fall further and further behind.”
Nationwide, crime labs are deluged with requests for DNA analysis. The National Institute of Justice estimates that the backlog of rape and homicide cases is about 350,000. A recent survey of California labs revealed a backlog problem in five areas of forensic testing, with DNA the greatest challenge. Lab directors reported that it would require 326 additional staff members at an estimated cost of $26 million to meet the demands for DNA, toxicology, and other testing.
The problem could be exacerbated by the state’s budget woes. A three-year, $50-million state grant to pay for DNA tests in older rape cases will expire next year. Money from the “cold-hit program,” which covers examining genetic material and entering offender profiles into a database, pays for two of six analysts at the Ventura County lab.