Tackling crime lab backlog is the need of the hour
Friday, November 03, 2017
Crime lab backlog is nothing new. It is as much a result of rising crime stats as it is about rapidly changing technology.
Labs need to update themselves with the latest technology to stay ahead of crime, but budget restraints have long held them back. That is why any news about funding crime labs is good news for all.
West Virginia recently made headlines in this regard when authorities announced $1 million funding for its State Police crime lab. The state diverted funds received from healthcare-related court settlements to the crime lab, and the money will be used to increase staff as well as tech tools.
Officials hope this will ease the backlog, which currently has about a six-month delay on lab results in drug cases. The state has been reeling under the opioid epidemic, which has now become their biggest health crisis. It is affecting citizens, driving up healthcare costs and hampering crime fighting.
Lack of funds and resources is an ongoing problem for law enforcement departments across the country, and this creates an adverse ripple effect.
Lengthy wait times discourage prosecutors and encourage the defense teams to save perpetrators. Speedier trials will not only prevent less manipulation of the system but also ease jail crowding. With the help of the more technicians and analysts, they can reduce the backlog and save the state a lot of money in the long run.
This development is heartening for other state authorities who want to fund their labs.
As Mississippi officials have stated, the reduction in state funding has had a dire effect on death investigations. Prosecutors say they depend on a quick turnaround of evidence to prosecute criminals. Since that doesn't happen, they are finding it difficult to do their job. They often face public and media backlash for the delays that are out of their control.
The Mississippi state crime lab has 400 agencies sending them cases, which makes for 500 to 600 autopsies a year, more than double what the National Association of Medical Examiners recommends. The reduction of $1.1 million in funding in the last two years hasn't helped. This is hardly good news for a state that is witnessing a rapid rise in crime stats.
In Alabama, the Huntsville crime lab has a full year delay for autopsy results. They blame severe budget cuts and a lack of trained personnel at the state forensic lab. Everything from drug cases to homicides has suffered, and the state morgue had to be shut down. Departments fear that more potential closures lie ahead due to their depleted budgets.
It is essential to understand that forensic work cannot be rushed. Every case needs special attention, and every autopsy has to be worked upon meticulously. If the forensic science doesn't support the corresponding cases, justice will be delayed, and victims' rights will not be vindicated in a timely manner.
But it's not all bad news.
Wake County in North Carolina announced a new firearms lab to help ease its crime lab backlog. Like autopsy reports, receiving the criminal ballistics reports in time is essential as well.
Acknowledging the power and importance of forensic science in solving crimes, speeding up an investigation and catching killers, Los Angeles County announced funds and high-tech tools for the state crime lab. Second in size to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, it has thousands of cases yet to be touched by the forensics team.
High-profile cases like O.J. Simpson's have highlighted the limitation of the labs and how they can defeat the investigators' purpose. Backlogs and constraints are unfair to victims and their families who are awaiting justice and closure.
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