Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $459,925)
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety (NMDPS) Forensic Laboratory Bureau (FLB) is seeking federal funding in the amount of $459,925.00 from the 2022 DNA Capacity Enhancement and Backlog Reduction (CEBR) Program for its NMDPS 2022 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 NMDPS 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 should have been submitted to the 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 2022, although the FLB has significantly reduced its backlog of sexual assault kits, 1,559 cases have been tested out of the original 1,805, more work still needs to be done to eliminate the backlog. In addition, law enforcement agencies across the state continue to add to this backlog by identifying added untested SAEK’s, resulting in the current backlog of 279 untested SAEK’s.
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 2022 Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Project goals and objectives include: 1) reducing the backlog of forensic biology/DNA cases by reducing the case processing time; 2) providing advanced training opportunities for eligible forensic scientists to meet continuing education requirements; and 3) and outsourcing backlogged non-violent DNA cases to an accredited laboratory for processing.