Monday, June 05, 2006

30 Days

Thirty-day turnaround.

That's a goal. An initial goal on the way to another.

Thirty-day turnaround in crime labs, coroners' and medical examiners' offices, fingerprint units...processing of forensic evidence of all kinds.

"What? What? What?" I can almost hear CSI and Crossing Jordan addicts asking. "Aren't labs able to complete tests and report autopsy results within a few days?"

Throughout most of the country, the answer is no. In fact, 30-day turnaround will seem like reaching for the stars for some labs. How do I know? Not just from my work in the CLP. The evidence is all around us. Take a look at this sampling of news stories that appeared just this past weekend:

An article by Rick Weiss in the Saturday, 6/3/06 issue of the Washington Post, "Vast DNA Bank Pits Policing Vs. Privacy" is worth reading just because it's a thought-provoking examination of efforts to create an all-inclusive US DNA database -- every American would be required to submit a sample of DNA to a national database. The extent to which this would overwhelm labs is just one consideration, but a real one.
"...As of the end of last year, more than 250,000 samples were backlogged in California alone...." Keep in mind that this is one type of test -- DNA -- that is only a small fraction of the testing done by labs.

A 6/4/06 story on KATV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas, noted that there has been a reduction in the backlog of cases at the state crime lab. Now they're down from 16,000 cases (in December) to a mere 6,500. Since that's a rather spectacular reduction, I hope someone is asking exactly how that happened. I hope that many cases were processed, and news stories suggest that healthy increases in staffing have helped. In another post, though, I'll talk about the ways backlog can be "reduced' without examining evidence.

In Florida, on 6/4/06 the Sun-Sentinel reported that a family has waited four months for autopsy results on their son, who died in custody.

In Georgia, the Augusta Chronicle reported on a story about a young man who was held for 16 months "in a county jail, accused of rape. Now officials say he shouldn't have been there
at all..." But it took that long for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get to the DNA tests on the case. "GBI spokeswoman Vicki Metz-Vickery said [the man's] DNA was part of a large backlog of cases. 'We are still working 2004 cases. And we are still about 1,000 cases backlogged.'..."

The above are far from the only examples I could cite, and remember that I found those stories without much effort from one weekend. Backlogs have been reported in every region in the country.

What will it take to end them? I'll talk more about that over the next few days.
In the meantime, go to the Crime Lab Project Web site to learn more.

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