Backlog seen in DNA testing of criminal evidence

SEATTLE -- The state's crime labs are facing a staffing shortage because of budget cuts. Detectives are waiting longer for crucial DNA that could help catch killers.

Sometimes it takes years to solve a murder.

Bellevue police recently charged a man with raping and killing a 19-year-old woman based on DNA evidence 32 years after the woman’s death. But even with more recent cases, it can take quite a bit of time to get DNA results to detectives.

"I`m going to test the red, brown staining on this hammer to see if it's really blood," said Jennifer Reid, a forensic scientist at the Washington State Patrol crime lab. She is part of a team that handles every technical aspect of evidence processing.

“We could be in trace analysis, or firearms. In my situation, I`m a DNA analyst so I specifically look at bodily fluids,” she said.

One of only 40 forensic scientists in the state, her caseload is pretty heavy.

“Usually there`s anywhere from five to 10 requests that we may complete individually within a month. So maybe a hundred to 120 cases in a year.”

That`s a lot. But even working as fast as they can, the lab has a serious backlog due to the volume of cases they handle and state budget cuts.

“It does have an impact with rush cases or those kind of things, because those come in and we need somebody to take those, so if we don`t have the staff we need ,then those might have to sit a little longer,” Reid said.

But relief may be on the way.

“We have a number of positions open in the lab and we`re trying to get permission to fill those,” said George Johnston, quality process manager with the WSP crime lab. “With the economy the way it is, we have to get written permission to fill those. We have a number of positions that are available, but only a number that we can hire for.”

Seattle alone may have three vacant spots this year.

With the backlog, the staff shortage and other bureaucratic troubles above her pay grade, Reid just gets to focus on a job she loves.

“The coolest part is that you can have an impact on things that there are actually cases that are solved through DNA where they didn`t have a suspect but you produce a piece of evidence that provides a person`s name for an investigator,” Reid said.