As DNA evidence builds Scottsdale seeks resources to keep pace

The Scottsdale Police Department Forensics Lab is at 7601 E. McKellips Road. (file photo)

The city of Scottsdale approved a new resolution that, in part, accepts a $150,000 grant to assist with evidential analysis for rising local DNA cases.

During a Dec. 5 Scottsdale City Council meeting, a resolution was approved on consent that authorized the acceptance of the grant, the approval to conduct negotiations in connection with the grant acceptance, and a $150,000 budget transfer.

The Scottsdale Police Department Crime Laboratory is responsible for the analysis of evidentiary material associated with criminal activity within the city of Scottsdale and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community for investigative purposes. The DNA Unit is charged with the screening of physical evidentiary items and the DNA analysis of biological evidence.

The department strives to ensure best practices are followed, a city staff report states, which includes examining DNA cases within 30 days of submittal. The city has seen in increase in the amount of DNA cases submitted for analysis whereas the number of cases has grown by 23 percent between 2013-16.

The actual number of DNA cases submitted to the lab between 2013 and 2016 is:

  • 2013: 323 cases
  • 2014: 458 cases
  • 2015: 399 cases
  • 2016: 572 cases.

The significant challenge for the DNA Unit is not the number of cases submitted to the lab, the staff report states, but rather it is the number of submitted cases that must be analyzed and processed within 30 days of submittal.

Recent changes to state laws require all sexual assault kits to be examined regardless of a criminal case moving forward. Prior, kits were only analyzed if there was a criminal charge.

While the number of DNA cases submitted to the lab continues to increase, so does the number of backlogged DNA cases, the staff report states.

A DNA case is considered to be “backlogged” when 30 days or more have passed without analysis beginning. Just as the number of cases submitted to the lab have fluctuated since 2013, so have the number of cases said to be in the backlog at the end of the year, with a 44 percent increase in cases backlogged at the end of 2016 from the end of 2015.

Cases in the backlog at the end of the calendar year were:

  • 2013: 66 cases
  • 2014: 185 cases
  • 2015: 147 cases
  • 2016: 211 cases.

The department expects the number of cases backlogged to grow as new laws and cases increase with current laboratory resources. As a proactive step, the department has purchased new equipment that would allow more DNA cases to be analyzed as well as expedite the process. However, the new equipment is not in use due to the equipment not yet being validated.

The grant funds will now be used to validate the DNA equipment, purchase additional licenses for the equipment and outfit an additional workstation that will assist in reducing the amount of time to complete an analysis.

The $150,000 grant is a formula based grant from the Department of Justice Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction program, the staff report states.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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