Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $2,022,146)
The Washington State Patrol through the Crime Laboratory Division (WSPCLD) is responsible for analyzing evidential material associated with criminal investigations for all state and local law enforcement agencies and medical examiners within the state. Under state law (RCW 43.43.756) the WSPCLD is the established public provider of forensic DNA services in Washington State. There are 5 casework DNA laboratories located throughout the state: Seattle, Tacoma, Marysville, Vancouver and Spokane. The CODIS Laboratory is also located in the same Seattle facility as the DNA casework laboratory.
The fiscal crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, in conjunction with 2019 test all Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) state legislation mandating a testing turnaround time of 45 days or less, have negatively impacted the capacity of WSPCLD to meet the demand for forensic DNA and DNA database services. Difficult austerity measures – including staggered work shifts, teleworking, and partial layoffs/furloughs – came at a time when WSPCLD was taking charge of an immense effort to eliminate the backlog of sexual assault kits in Washington by May of 2022 (a due date set by state law). Additional legislation in 2019 added qualifying offenses to the CODIS-eligible offender category, which increased the number of convicted offender samples needing to be typed and entered into the CODIS database. These circumstances have fostered the appreciable increase of the backlog of casework requests awaiting testing over time and caused lengthy turnaround times.
The intent of this proposal is to minimize the impact of the increased workload on the WSPCLD DNA casework and database laboratories, and to maintain the highest possible quality of forensic DNA testing while keeping up with advances in the field. This will be achieved by:
maintaining and increase the capacity of all WSPCLD DNA laboratories;
maintaining continuing education for casework and database analysts; and
reducing the existing backlog of casework testing requests by outsourcing DNA analysis to a private, accredited laboratory.
Unless the overall capacity of WSPCLD to analyze DNA casework and database cases is substantially increased, the backlog and turnaround time for all forensic DNA cases will continue to increase in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and State austerity measures related to COVID-19. Without a BJA award, the capacity of WSPCLD laboratories to process and analyze forensic and database DNA samples, and provide meaningful and varied continuing education opportunities to our scientific staff of 73 individuals, will fail to satisfy current service demands.