FOX47 NEWS - Crime Lab Catch-Up

Jeff Angileri
May 4, 2009, 10:38 PM

When attorney general J.B. Van Hollen took office three years ago, he aimed to eliminate the backlog of cases at the state crime lab by 2010. Now, Wisconsin is on pace to finish ahead of that timeframe.

A backlog is defined as a piece of evidence that's brought into the lab, and is not out within 30 days.

That used to be the norm -- but now a concerted effort to eliminate those delays seems to be working.

Not long ago, in January of 2007, analysts at the state crime lab faced a daunting task -- a backlog of more than 1,800 cases. DNA samples sat untested. Police and courtrooms waited. Families were left searching for resolutions.

Crime lab administrator Gary Hamblin says thanks to vast improvements, the backlog is a fraction of its former self -- down to 525. That means more DNA samples are getting tested faster, and investigators can track down or eliminate suspects altogether.

Both of those things will save law enforcement resources and allow police agencies in the state to make better use of their time and resources, Hamblin said. That makes the public safer and saves taxpayer dollars.

Here's how they worked through 1,300 cases in about two years: 60 DNA analysts now work as part of the forensics team.

Even though there's a high reliance on DNA, there are still a lot of valuable disciplines in the lab whether it be fingerprints, firearms, toxicology, said Hamblin.

Even with double the staff, keeping the backlog in check often depends on how much has to be tested.

We get cases that have anywhere from a single DNA sample that needs to be analyzed to some homicide cases, we've had almost 200 samples, Hamblin said.

But with the relatively new technology constantly getting better, convicting the guilty and freeing the innocent is happening faster and with less evidence to begin with.

Said Hamblin Years ago, if you were looking at a blood sample for example you needed a stain the size of a quarter in order to get enough material to test. Now, we get it with a few cells.

As the backlog shrinks, Hamblin expects the number of cases sent to the lab to grow. He says part of that is due to the crime lab's success over the last two years.


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