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State Police Seek Help to Reduce Crushing Caseload

February 17, 2002
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State Police Seek Help to Reduce Crushing Caseload

Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - State police have asked lawmakers for more money to reduce a backlog at Indiana's crime laboratories, but even if they receive the cash, authorities may need years to clear the cases awaiting analysis.

The backlog consists of 5,287 cases at crime labs where law-enforcement agencies statewide send evidence to be tested. Police describe the situation as a crisis, but the logjam is nothing new.

As long ago as 1995, work held up in crime labs was causing delays in trials. In 1997, the Indiana State Police stopped accepting new cases for DNA testing for several months as the pile of unfinished cases grew. They also switched to a different kind of DNA testing.

For a time, new DNA technology allowed the labs to catch up, but demand continued to outstrip resources, and DNA testing is again almost at a one-year backlog.

State police have crime labs in Evansville, Fort Wayne, Lowell and Indianapolis. All but Fort Wayne conduct DNA tests, and all perform other tests, including firearms and bullet examinations, fingerprinting, drug analysis and document exams.

Vincennes Police Detective Mark Dupire said DNA testing, when DNA is available, is critical for a successful prosecution.

"It's obviously something that you cannot not do, because if you don't, then the defense will kill you," Dupire told The Indianapolis Star for a story published Sunday.

State police say the swamped labs frustrate them, too.

"We're a victim of our own success," State Police Superintendent Melvin Carraway said.

Law-enforcement agencies around the state saw the power of scientific evidence and "rushed the barn door" to ask for help from state police labs, Carraway said.

A measure was introduced in the General Assembly this year to raise $8 million a year for the labs with a new $15 fine added to those already paid for such things as speeding and other traffic tickets.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but died in the Senate Finance Committee. Carraway and Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who supported the measure, promised to continue looking for ways to get the proposal through the Legislature this year.

The new fee would fund a second shift at the crime labs, essentially doubling the current staffing of 57 scientists and technicians.

Maj. Robert Conley, commander of the state police's laboratory division, noted that some level of backlog is to be expected and can be managed.

Prosecutors are also concerned.

"I think it's desperate," said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. "There are probably some cases coming in now that they'll never test before trial. "They're almost close to declaring a moratorium."

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