AG Asks Governor to Beef Up Commitment to DNA Backlog

By: Melissa Wollering Email
By: Melissa Wollering Email

Wisconsin's top cop says the state crime lab needs twice the number of positions the Governor has committed to in order to fix the DNA backlog.

In Tuesday's budget address, Governor Jim Doyle encouraged legislators to work with the Department of Justice to eliminate the backlog in the state's crime lab. Two days later, the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics and Criminal Justice Committees are considering a barrage of options.

Attorney General Van Hollen wants to add 31 positions to the lab. That is more than twice what the Governor has committed to in his budget.

"We're making some assumptions that keep the number of analysts as low as possible and still give us a chance of eliminating this backlog by the end of 2010, which is our goal," says state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Before Thursday's public hearing, the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission released its recommendations. The group of UW and Marquette law school faculty members and state bar members says 2010 is a long time to put public safety at risk when the lab's 1800 pending cases mean 300 to 400 dangerous offenders could still be out on the streets.

"We believe it has to be addressed so that there is not anything other than a working backlog at the crime lab within at least 18 months, not three years," says retired Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Michael Malmstadt.

The Commission recommends outsourcing the work to other states, something Van Hollen says costs too much.

"It's roughly twice as much to outsource a case as it is to do it in-house," says Van Hollen.

Each outsourced case costs the state roughly $7,200. If the backlog still exists in three years, the state could incur $12 million in costs each year by continuing to outsource. The costs of adding 31 new positions plus related lab equipment, space and training totals $7.7 Million dollars.
Van Hollen wants the money to come from the Governor's budget repair bill, not the biannual budget process so positions could be added immediately.

"Just that passage of six months can have a tremendous impact on our abililty to reduce the backlog sooner and to keep it from growing at such a rapid rate," says Van Hollen.

On Thursday, the Governor's spokesperson responded by saying 15 positions are fully paid for, but did not comment on the additional 16 Van Hollen wants.

Van Hollen also plans to ask investigators to use discretion when submitting DNA samples and increase the use of robotics technology.
The study commission supports both of those. However, Van Hollen admits it will still be tough to fast-track violent crime cases, even when the backlog is eliminated.

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