MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin crime labs are taking longer to process DNA, ballistics and computer evidence, posing a problem for Attorney General Josh Kaul after he hammered Republican opponent Brad Schimel over lab delays during their 2018 campaign.
Kaul, a Democrat, released a report Wednesday that shows delays in DNA testing grew last year by about 20 days compared to 2018 and 2017, Schimel’s last two years as attorney general. The delays grew even though the labs received hundreds of fewer DNA assignments than in either 2018 or 2017 and legislators gave Kaul two more DNA analysts in the 2019-2021 state budget. The report noted that Schimel’s push to analyze thousands of sexual assault evidence kits that had gone untested for years increased his numbers.
Ballistics testing, meanwhile, took an average of 268 days per case, up from 210 days in 2018 and 171 days in 2017, even though the budget allocated an additional firearms analyst and three ballistics analysts completed training last year. Computer forensics testing, which recaptures images and videos from hard drives, took an average of 69 days, up from 62 days in 2018 but still better than the average 94-day delay in 2017.
Kaul’s team did manage to shorten waiting times for fingerprint, footprint, tool mark, drug and toxicology tests in 2019, the report said. But delays in DNA, ballistics and computer forensics can lead to major offenders going undetected longer. DNA is the gold standard for identifying rapists and murderers beyond a reasonable doubt, ballistics are key to tracing murder weapons and computer forensics play a huge role in identifying pedophiles.
Kaul attacked Schimel on the campaign trail for being too slow to complete crime lab tests and delaying justice for victims. A review of Wisconsin crime lab operations that Florida International University’s National Forensic Science Technology Center released in September 2018 found that the labs suffered from multiple problems, including poor morale, below-market pay and accepting too much evidence from police.
Kaul released another report Wednesday detailing the labs’ efforts to improve. It noted that lab workers received a 2% pay raise in January and are due to receive another 2% raise in January 2021, and lab managers have been given more access to state Justice Department administrators so they can better relay messages to analysts. The labs also have adopted a new DNA extraction system that allows for more automation and faster processing, and evidence submission guidelines for local police have been revised, the report said.
Kaul was scheduled to speak about both reports during a news conference Wednesday morning.