Wisconsin testing delays grow for DNA and other evidence

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MADISON, Wis. (AP/WMTV) -- Wisconsin crime labs are taking longer to test evidence for DNA, a potential liability for Attorney General Josh Kaul after he hammered his Republican predecessor about testing delays during their 2018 campaign.

Kaul released a report Wednesday that shows DNA testing took an average of 97 days in 2019, up from 80 days in 2018 and 76 days in 2017 under Republican Brad Schimel's watch. The report also showed the number of cases crime labs analyzed dropped by almost a thousand since 2017.

The report showed the crime labs received more than 10,000 cases last year, 43 percent of which for controlled substances. It also Fentanyl accounted for six percent of the drugs they found, while five years ago there were none.

Kaul criticized Schimel during the 2018 campaign for taking too long to process evidence at the crime labs. The report shows that Kaul hasn't been able to speed up the analyses. 

Kaul said the effort to clear the sexual assault kit backlog in 2018 impacted DNA testing time in 2019. He said testing those kits delayed testing for other cases, pushing average testing time up.

"What that means is those cases that got delayed, those are the ones being finished in early 2019, and those cases had longer delays than typical because they had been delayed while those kits were being processed," he explained.

Kaul said the impacts of hiring more analysts on turnaround times will not be seen until numbers of 2020 are released.

Crime lab analysts have also been increasingly working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this could become a long-term change.

A 2018 assessment from the National Forensic Science Technology Center found Wisconsin crime lab analysts needed more flexibility to work remotely.

State crime labs had started working on policies, before the pandemic left them with no choice. Now, analysts work only a day or two each week in the lab.

"What we've learned through this is that recommendation in the needs assessment is something that we can really consider moving forward once we're out of this pandemic state, for the possibility of revising our business model and how we allow staff to work remotely," said Division of Forensic Sciences administrator Nicole Roehm.