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Crime Lab's Backlog Slow Down Police Work in Georgia

MACON, Ga. (AP) - The backlog of cases at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime labs is causing delays for law enforcement agencies around the state.

The GBI does most of the forensic work for Georgia's law enforcement agencies, providing things such as toxicology reports and tests on DNA and drug samples.

But during the past year, the backlog in GBI labs has nearly tripled. In some cases, authorities are waiting more than six months for drug tests.

"Public safety has taken a big cut, just like everybody else, and it's having an adverse impact," Monroe County Sheriff J.C. Bittick said.

From July 2003 to July 2004, the backlog increased from 10,740 to 28,570 cases, according to the GBI. The delays have held up court proceedings and have even let suspected drug dealers back on the street, Bittick and others say.

The delays do not only affect law enforcement, but also people waiting for toxicology reports for insurance settlements in the deaths of loved ones, Bittick said.

From fiscal year 2000 to fiscal 2005, the forensic division's budget has decreased by 15 percent because of state budget cuts. And as the budget dwindled, positions have gone unfilled, although Gov. Sonny Perdue amended the 2005 budget to add money for 15 positions.

But those employees will take a year to train when hired, said Dan Kirk, deputy director of the GBI's division of forensic science. Even with those positions filled, 30 of the division's 280 positions will remain open, he said.

State Rep. Curtis Jenkins, D-Forsyth, said that the House Public Safety Committee plans to meet this fall and discuss the GBI's budget.

"I don't know what we'll be able to do," Jenkins said. "It depends on what revenue there is."

To help decrease the workload, the GBI stopped testing marijuana in July, something the GBI trains other law enforcement agencies to do, Kirk said. But even if the labs got no more cases, it would take six or seven months to catch up on the current backlog.

Although the lengths of delays vary from lab to lab, the biggest backlog is at the Atlanta lab.

Requests to speed up certain cases have been met, Kirk said, but law enforcement agencies are still not getting results as fast they would like.

"Will they ever? I don't know if there's an answer to that," Kirk said.

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