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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Charlotte's DNA backlog slows effort to solve crimes

Evidence with the potential to solve or provide leads on hundreds of burglary and robbery cases awaits DNA testing as Charlotte-Mecklenburg police grapple with a backlog.

Testing is still a top priority for murder, rape and habitual offender cases. And police do have a plan to clear the backlog, but it may take until late next year.

Charlotte police blame a staffing shortage for the problem.

Crime scene evidence in 138 robbery and 443 burglary investigations was awaiting DNA analysis as of Oct. 10, the latest police data available.

Last year, DNA testing led investigators to suspects or new leads in 58 percent of burglary cases and in 18 percent of the robberies that had biological evidence.

In late 2006, two of the four DNA analysts left for personal reasons and the department began an immediate search. But a shortage of analysts around the country slowed the hiring. At a minimum, it takes three to four months to train a new DNA analyst, but the process can stretch up to a year, depending on experience.

Around the time the analysts left, residential burglaries increased and robberies occurred in traditionally low-crime neighborhoods.

Police Deputy Chief Kerr Putney, speaking on the DNA issue, said the lab is in transition: By next year the staff of analysts should grow to six, and the 12-month backlog should start clearing.

Charlotte City Councilman Edwin Peacock III, who serves on the public safety committee, said the backlog is “very problematic” because prompt testing would help solve the crimes, but also help capture some violent criminals in the process.

That's because some property crime offenders also have committed violent crimes, he said. “We have people who are the rapists and murderers who are in that pile (of untested evidence),” said Peacock, who campaigned last year on using innovative approaches to battle crime. [Mark Godsey]

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