The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The West Virginia State Police crime
lab is struggling to keep up with an increasing volume of
evidence, the lab's director says.
The DNA analysis section has a five-month backlog, while the
drug identification and latent fingerprints areas have several
months' worth of cases on hold, Capt. Ted Smith said. Lab sections
that analyze documents, toxicology, ballistics and trace evidence
- including fire accelerants - are on schedule, he said.
Staffing is another concern, Smith said.
"Whenever we have to replace employees ... that creates a time
lag for us," he said. "Sometimes it takes several months to get
Even new hires with four-year degrees require an additional six
months to two years of training, depending on their specialties,
Smith said. DNA analysts must train a year before working
Analysts earn an average of $30,000 to $35,000 per year, and
Smith said the lab has lost workers to medical schools and
industrial labs that offer higher pay.
Job stress can also be a factor in turnover, he said.
Meanwhile, recent turnover rates have left the lab's backlogged
sections with more trainees than fully trained workers, Smith
The DNA section has three replacements and three new analysts
in training, leaving only three fully trained workers. Three of
seven drug analysts and four of five fingerprint analysts are also
Problems may arise if the trained workers are needed to testify
in court as expert witnesses, Smith said.
"If the prosecutor doesn't manage their time well, we'll have
labs empty for days," he said.
The lab is working to hire more DNA analysts and streamline DNA
handling, Smith said. Some DNA analysts now specialize in
preparing evidence, while others work solely on analyzing
Smith also hopes the state will raise salaries or adjust
analysts' benefit packages to help keep workers.
The State Police has also recently signed an agreement with
Marshall and West Virginia universities to align the schools'
forensics curriculums so they more accurately reflect accredited
labs' needs and provide lab internships.
Besides the backlog and staffing issues, money is also an
issue. The lab's access to the State Police's overall annual
budget of $72 million has not grown proportionally with its
workload, Smith said.
State Police spokesman Lt. Mark Neal said now might not be the
best time to approach the state Legislature for more money, since
a shortfall has been predicted. He said that the State Police is
currently working to identify how to meet needs
The crime lab, accredited by the American Academy of Crime
Laboratory Directors, also handles evidence submitted by city
police and federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms.