ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department is trying to tackle a DNA backlog from all kinds of criminal cases it says is ‘decades’ in the making. But, it has some new technology that is helping the department get through the backlog quicker.
The DNA backlog is from crimes like car thefts, break-ins, and murder. APD said the crime lab has faced challenges over the years, which, over time, created the backlog.
“Well, throughout the course of the lab, we’ve had a history of personnel shortages, training, retention issues. Over the past few years, we’ve worked pretty hard to rectify those issues. And, right now we have ten fully trained DNA scientists,” Commander Christopher George with APD said.
APD is making progress in bringing backlog numbers down. According to Commander George, this calendar year the crime lab was able to bring down the backlog by 30% to 3,131 cases. In addition to having ten fully trained DNA scientists, the department also has new technology that automates and speeds up the process.
“Well, it’s basically a mostly hands-off process. So, what we’re doing is we’re setting up the instrumentation to be able to handle larger amounts of samples at one given time. Where in the past, we were handling each sample, separately, one at a time,” Alanna Williams, Senior Forensic Scientist, said.
She said the technology allows them to handle 80-96 DNA samples at a time, instead of one. The COVID-19 pandemic did pose a challenge to the crime lab when setting up new equipment.
“Well specifically with COVID, we ordered a lot of new equipment. Once that equipment gets into the lab it has to go through validation. Some of these validations can take anywhere from six to 24 weeks. So, obviously, our vendor is in California. They’ve had basically a statewide shutdown. None of their experts were able to travel out to New Mexico. So, that resulted in some of the slow down in processes,” Commander George said.
He said the vendors are now currently on-site working through that validation. He hopes to have more equipment up and running in the next four to six weeks.
APD said the technology cost at least $2 million with about $1,032,000 coming from the state legislature in 2019. Of course, the crime lab is trying to tackle this backlog while also handling new DNA requests that come in.
“Roughly about 1,000 requests come in for DNA every single year,” Williams said. “So, not only do we have to tackle those new numbers but we also have to tackle our backlog. So, in order to accomplish that, we have to be able to process more samples at any given time.”
Commander George estimates they’ll get through the entire backlog in 24 months.
“Obviously with ten fully trained DNA scientists in the lab right now, we’re working diligently to bring down some of those numbers,” he said. “As we identify more offenders off the streets, the city will ultimately result in a safer community for all.”