Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hearing on DNA Backlog Finds Progress

When Pennsylvania State Representative Larry Farnese (D- Philadelphia) learned that a serial rapist in his hometown might have been able to continue his crime spree because police did not have DNA evidence that could have linked him to multiple crimes, he called for a hearing to find out what was going on with the system. Police records show they had the DNA of the accused rapist in hand for nearly three months before it was added to the database where it could be matched to the other crimes.

What Farnese found was that at one time the state DNA lab was working with an 80-day backlog, which has been whittled down to 60 days in recent months. Farnese says the goal is to get it down to 14 days in the near future. However, he notes that in many European countries a one-week backlog is considered to be unacceptable.

Farnese says during the hearing it became clear to him that the employees in the lab are working as hard as they can. He says the number of employees and the equipment available limits the lab’s workload.

While funding levels were not specifically part of the hearing, Farnese says there was discussion on how to best use the state’s assets, including privatization options. “We determined based upon the hearing that it would cost more to box, protect and ship, then get them back and upload those samples, than it would to do it in house,” says Farnese. “So it is actually more inefficient to ship these to a third party testing lab.” Farnese says last year the state lab processed DNA samples from 1,924 active crime cases and uploaded 23,938 DNA profiles to the database.

The hearing comes as legislation that would increase the number of crimes for which DNA testing is done is making its way through the state legislature. Some believe that bill could increase the number of DNA samples processed by the lab by 400%.

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