The Indiana State Police crime laboratories increased their turnaround time on testing DNA evidence last year, even though far more samples were submitted, according to a report from the agency.
The state police laboratory division's report for 2011 said it ended the year with a backlog of about 390 DNA cases after more than 4,300 were submitted. The agency's four labs completed 83 percent of DNA tests within 45 days — up from 48 percent two years earlier, the report said.
"Every crime lab has a backlog. The issue really is what's your turnaround time?" said Eric Lawrence, forensic analysis director for the state police, told The Journal Gazette for a story Monday.
The laboratories in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville and Lowell also reported improvement in overall cases — whether involving DNA, firearms, drugs, fingerprints or document analysis — that had been in the laboratories' hands for more than 45 days.
That number has dropped from 3,803 in 2005 to 1,060 last year. The agency said 74 percent of firearms testing was finished with 45 days, while tests on 49 percent of drug samples were done within that time.
"Our goal is to complete 75 percent of our cases in 45 days," Lawrence said. "At the same time, if a police agency has some sort of rush, some high-profile case, or something that can be an immediate threat to public safety, we want to meet those needs too."
John Vanderkolk, the lab manager in Fort Wayne, attributed the reduction of the backlog to a larger lab in Indianapolis, more biologists working for the department and the transferring of cases among the crime labs.
The number of DNA tests requested from the labs has more than doubled in five years, and Lawrence said the technology for examining DNA samples seems to be continuously developing.
"We basically can do touch DNA testing, where if you hold a beer can, or hold that steering wheel, we're typing DNA you can't even see," he said.
One step the state police labs are working on is being recertified by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.
That group's review of the labs this year found 19 that needed to be addressed. Most of these were generally administrative in nature, Lawrence said, and the department has submitted documents showing those corrective actions have been implemented.