Police Face New DNA Protocols; Look to Outside Help | Connecticut Public Radio

Police Face New DNA Protocols; Look to Outside Help

Dec 29, 2011

Starting January 1, local police departments will be following a new protocol for sending evidence to the state crime lab. It's an attempt to reduce a massive backlog in the system. Mike Lawlor says it's a result of "The CSI Effect." "People have come to expect that forensic scientists can solve any crime based on evidence gathered from a crime scene. So the natural tendency is just to send up as much as you can find, and let them sort through it," Lawlor says. 

 Sometimes, that means 50 bags of evidence dumped on an overworked lab at a time.  And, that has led to delays of 1, 2, 3 or even 4 years in testing evidence, and a DNA backlog alone of thousands of cases.  All of which led to the state lab losing its accreditation earlier this year. Lawlor is Governor Malloy's Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning, which has been studying new strategies for the crime lab.  He says the new protocol limits will force departments to be more selective with what they send.   For instance: "In more serious cases they've asked to keep it to 15 pieces of evidence to start with then if you still can't figure out who the suspect is, then go back and retrieve some additional evidence," Lawlor says.   In minor cases, the initial limit might be one or two pieces of evidence. Lawlor says this kind of system should be "standard operating procedure" for the state - but it does limit what local law enforcement can do.  So, at least one department has reached out for help. Branford is one of 8 municipalities nationwide that will contract with DNA:SI Labs in North Carolina.  It's expected that Branford could spend as much as $66 thousand a year on their Local DNA Indexing System or "LODIS." (Note: Branford Police did not return calls by deadline) The company's director of law enforcement services, Jay Whitt is a 30-year veteran of the Greensboro, NC force. He says bigger city departments could spend a half million a year on LODIS. Whitt says his company wants departments to handle samples in a different way than the state crime lab gets them...not 'case by case' but in monthly batches. "You collect however many you want to a month and send to us, whether it's from a break-in a car theft, a larceny shoplifting suspect - it doesn't matter. Let us process them," Whitt says.  Unlike the state, Whitt says DNA:SI doesn't want any "guidance" from police about what they might be looking for in the DNA samples they send. That way, they've got no "preconcieved idea" about a suspect the cops might be looking for.  "We don't care," Whitt says. "Whatever the DNA results show, that's what they are." Whitt says the company's system is more efficient, handling thousands of pieces of evidence a month - and he'd like to try out LODIS at the state level.  He's presented his system to Connecticut officials and those in other states. Undersecretary Lawlor says Connecticut has contracted out some of its DNA work to private companies in the past - with mixed results. And, Lawlor says, it's not preferable because of the expense.  But Lawlor says he hopes Connecticut's crime lab will get its accreditation back soon - if not, the state might have to look at more work with private DNA firms.