Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $445,162)
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety (NMDPS) Forensic Laboratory Bureau (FLB) is seeking federal funding in the amount of $445,161.00 from the 2021 DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction (CEBR) Program for its NMDPS 2021 Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Project, which will improve the quality and timeliness of statewide forensic DNA science services. As the largest forensic laboratory in the state, the FLB is responsible for analyzing evidentiary material associated with any/all criminal investigations for nearly 300 state, local, federal, and tribal law enforcement agencies within the state of New Mexico. In January 2016, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and the Office of the New Mexico State Auditor released the results of a 2015 statewide audit of crime lab backlog cases across the state. The audit revealed a considerable backlog, including over 5,409 Sexual Assault Examination Kits (SAEK) that were awaiting analysis in New Mexico’s law enforcement vaults. Of the 5,409 SAEK, 1,805 were housed at the NMDPS FLB. The report estimated that it would take five (5) years to process the backlog with current staffing resources and an additional estimated $8 million was needed over a five (5) year period to make significant progress in diminishing the backlog. As of June 2021, although the NMDPS FLB has significantly reduced its backlog of sexual assault kits, 1,529 cases have been tested out of the original 1,805, more work still needs to be done to eliminate the backlog. Currently, 284 SAEK are untested, with additional cases expected to be added to the backlog. However, as DNA case submissions continue to increase, the state funding to process these urgent cases has plateaued, creating challenges that have directly impacted the FLB’s turnaround of increased number of DNA cases. This proposed project will significantly facilitate the FLB’s ability to mitigate these challenges while increasing their ability to process, record, screen, and analyze forensic DNA and/or DNA database samples while decreasing the forensic DNA case backlog. The NMDPS 2021 Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Project goals and objectives include reducing the backlog of forensic biology/DNA cases by reducing the case processing time and ensuring that all SAEK cases are completed within 180 days from submission; 2) providing advanced training opportunities for eligible forensic scientists to meet continuing education requirements; and 3) and purchase modernized equipment and supplies to increase productivity and increase the quality of DNA case work by forensic scientists.