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Improving the quality and timeliness of our forensic services by reducing the number of backlogged controlled substances cases in Ventura County, CA.

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Awardee County
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $384,886)

As with many forensic laboratories across the country, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Services Bureau is struggling with budgetary restrictions that impact our operation.  Increasing backlogs, aging technologies, and the loss of key personnel all affect our ability to provide the highest quality and timeliness of our forensic services that is justifiably expected of us.  Although we have been extremely fortunate up until this point, we cannot risk the very real possibility of our backlogged cases resulting in cases being dismissed by the criminal justice system that we work so hard to serve.  

The proliferation of heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl have had a crushing effect on our crime laboratory causing huge backlog issues.  Patrol officers and investigators throughout the County were mandated to stop drug testing (color test by NiK kit) in the field.  All samples collected now come to the laboratory for analysis and patrol officers no longer can testify at preliminary hearings to their preliminary results by color testing.   This has significantly impacted lab resources.  In addition, synthetic opioids are more difficult to analyze than traditional opiates and validating methods for new drugs as they emerge slows the processing of these samples.  See history of drug cases received at the end of the narrative.

The staff of the Controlled Substances Unit is in a constant state of stress because of the backlog.  The unit is currently running at maximum capacity and simply cannot keep up with the incoming cases while simultaneously addressing the growing backlog.  One person is planning to go out on medical leave.  This means that the section will be down one out of five full time staff (20%) resulting in dramatically increased backlog. This will drastically affect their capacity to not only process the thousands of controlled substances cases they receive each year, but also preventing them from meeting court deadlines.

The backlog in the Controlled Substance Unit ballooned to over 2500 cases and the turnaround times have lengthened substantially from 25 days to 102 days.  This was not only caused by the lack of personnel and the loss of patrol officers being able to testify at preliminary hearings but it is combined with Proposition 47 enacted by the State of California in 2016 and the implementation of a new Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) in 2019.  Without assistance, we are projecting that these numbers will continue to climb.  However, we are highly optimistic that these challenges can be overcome if given the right resources.

Through the use of the requested grant monies, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Forensic Services Bureau aims to improve the quality and timeliness of our forensic services and reduce the number of backlogged cases by means of adding additional personnel.

Date Created: September 25, 2023