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It's Hard to Say If This Baltimore Crime Lab Whittled Down Its DNA Sample Backlog

motorolka/Shutterstock.com

A federally-funded Baltimore crime lab could not show progress processing backlogged DNA samples because incoming and outgoing analysis-tracking systems weren't linked, according to a newly-released Justice Department audit.

Justice gave the City of Baltimore Police Department Crime Laboratory $1.2 million to reduce a logjam of unanalyzed DNA evidence, from October 2011 through March 2014.

"We could not determine if the cooperative agreement helped reduce the DNA backlog," inspector general officials wrote in an April 14 report.

The lab maintains one database for serology analysis, which is the screening of evidence for bodily fluids, and one database for DNA analysis, which can connect a single fluid sample to a specific person.

"The serology and DNA databases are not linked and we could not determine the length of time evidence was submitted in serology to the date the evidence was received in the DNA unit," the report stated. "Further, we could not replicate the data in the DNA database to chart the number of backlogged DNA cases during the award period." 

The technical glitch was identified two months after The Baltimore Sun reported a suspected rapist was able to attack twice because of the lab’s backlog.

A Southeast Baltimore man was charged in February in connection with two cases that occurred in the same area — one that month and one in July 2012. Bernard Burton had remained on the street as "DNA from the first incident slogged through the system, caught in a backlog that at one point reached 1,500 cases," the newspaper reported on Feb. 20. Because the incidents were similar, police ordered a comparison of DNA evidence and quickly found a link to Burton.

Officials at the Baltimore crime lab told federal inspectors that Justice should develop a database system for all laboratories that receive federal funding to capture DNA backlog cases. But the inspectors said they feel performance must be assessed "throughout the award term" to see if funds are being used properly and make changes if necessary.

At the time of Burton's arrest, police said they had significantly cut down on the backlog, reducing it to about 440 cases, according to The Sun.

Some law enforcement experts say a nationwide backlog of unanalyzed DNA is taking money away from efforts to drive CSI-like innovations that could actually solve the backlog program, as well as crack cases.

Backlog reduction programs consume most of the DNA funding from the National Institute of Justice, the agency that provides resources for unclogging backlogs and genetic evidence research and development. 

(Image via motorolka/Shutterstock.com)

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