Despite backlog, crime lab unlikely to get funding boost

Posted July 2, 2014 8:32 p.m. EDT
Updated July 2, 2014 9:00 p.m. EDT

— Major backlogs in the State Crime Lab keep growing because of a shortage of DNA analysts and scientists who test blood in drunken driving cases, state Attorney General Roy Cooper has said, and the delays have caused some criminal charges to be dismissed.

"This is a matter of public safety," Cooper said recently.

The crime lab's DNA analysis division gets 3,300 cases a year, many with multiple pieces of evidence. According to the state Department of Justice, it would take 55 analysts to test that DNA in a timely manner, but the lab has only 24.

"There's very good reason to be concerned," said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

The crime lab asked for 119 new positions since 2007, but lawmakers have funded only 40. This year's House budget reflects that trend, initially including 10 new positions but willing to cut it to two in negotiations.

"Can we fix it in one year? The answer is no, but I think, over time, as we have the ability to, it's something we can chip away at," Burr said.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he is more concerned with paying lab analysts than hiring new ones.

"I think it would be foolish for us to create additional positions if we can't fill the positions we have," Berger said, citing the high turnover among analysts because of below-market pay. "I think there may be a need to look at the pay structure for the analysts and a modification of the pay structure."

The House this week passed legislation that would allow analysts to testify in court cases via videoconferencing, which would cut their travel time out of the office. But no money has been included in any budget proposal to pay for the equipment to make that possible.

Last year, analysts spent the equivalent of 70 working weeks in court and not in the lab.