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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
or crime scene search officers who go onsite to take photographs and locate, preserve, label, and gather physical evidence.
According to the 2005 BJS data, the Nation’s 389 crime laboratories received an estimated 2.7 million new cases during 2005. Almost half were submitted to state laboratories. Laboratories serving local jurisdictions received about 1.3 million cases in 2005, including 727,000 cases received by county laboratories and 566,000 by municipal laboratories.
An estimated 359,000 cases were backlogged (not completed within 30 days) at the end of 2005, compared to 287,000 at yearend 2002. This represents a 24 percent increase in backlogged cases between 2002 and 2005. State laboratories accounted for more than half of the backlog in both years. Among the 288 laboratories that reported this information, the median number of cases received in 2005 was about 4,100. Overall, laboratories ended the year with a median backlog of about 400 cases. Six percent of laboratories that received cases in 2005 reported having no backlog at yearend.18
In 2005, federal laboratories received the fewest cases.
Fifty-one percent of the laboratories reported outsourcing one or more types of forensic services to private laboratories in 2005, primarily DNA casework, toxicology, Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) samples, and controlled substances.
In a communication with the committee, Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department Crime Laboratory Director Barry Fisher warned that to manage backlogs, laboratories triage cases:
Murders, rapes, aggravated assaults and the like have priority, as do cases going to court, cases where a suspect is being held on an arrest warrant, highly publicized cases, etc. Property crimes, such as burglaries, are often far down the list. This makes the likelihood of examining evidence from property crime cases unlikely. Oddly, the police and prosecutors are rarely consulted about how priorities are determined. The use of triage is the lab’s best effort to manage its own scarce resources. Another factor at play in case management is that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” This means that a persistent investigator who calls the lab often enough will get his case done more quickly than the investigator who just sends the case down to the lab expecting that it will be done.19
Ibid., pp. 3, 4. The committee notes that the 30-day turnaround metric is an arbitrary metric useful for comparative purposes only.
Letter to the committee from B.A.J. Fisher. June 12, 2007.