MESA, Ariz. (AP) - A mounting pile of genetic material from crime scenes has resulted in a massive backlog at Mesa's crime lab.
As of last week, the number of cases involving potential DNA evidence had climbed 65 percent to 691, up from 418 cases 11 months ago.
"It's going to be really hard to get that under control," said Joyce Lee, supervisory criminalist in the Mesa police crime lab.
The backlog is so large that nobody will speculate on when four criminalists who work on DNA can analyze the material.
The crime lab can process 240 to 300 DNA cases a year. At that rate, the lab could catch up only if crime took a vacation for two to three years.
Investigators love the technology that allows them to break the code of DNA, the genetic blueprint for all life.
The unique genetic makeup of every person makes for compelling evidence to prove a criminal's involvement.
The technology also has set more than 100 wrongly convicted prisoners free nationwide and cleared an unknown number of suspects before they might have been arrested or put on trial.
But as the ability to solve crimes with DNA improves, so does the demand for its use.
The DNA from a crime scene can be matched against suspects, or against state and national databases with samples from millions of convicted criminals.
Mesa police say justice isn't on hold because of the backlog.
They can get results in two days for crucial cases, such as homicides, or crimes in which DNA could help point to suspects who are likely to strike again soon.
Put on low priority is evidence from non-violent crimes and crimes in which police don't have suspects.
Evidence from thousands of crimes before 1999 isn't considered part of the backlog, though police know years-old material could solve some crimes.
Some of those more difficult cases could get a boost.
Mesa hopes to get a $123,000 grant next month from the National Institute for Justice that will provide funding for 100 cases, Lee said. The funds would pay for overtime and equipment on crimes in which the culprit is unknown.
But for a lasting solution, Lee said the city needs a new crime lab and a larger staff.