On Thursday, the Austin City Council is expected to approve a measure that would provide additional staff to the Austin Police Department’s DNA Crime Lab.
According to a council member spokesperson, the $1.4 million would be earmarked to hire seven new DNA analysts, and a supervisor, to speed up processing the evidence.
As FOX 7 has reported, the Austin Police Department is contracting with a private company to clear a backlog of 3,000 cases, some of them dating back to the 90’s. That is being paid using a $2 million grant.
On Monday, during a City Council budget hearing, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo committed to using a $200,000 federal grant to start clearing the roughly 1,400 additional DNA samples, half of which are sex assault cases. Acevedo also pledged to find the money within APD’s budget to clear up whatever is remaining.
Sex assault survivors are praising the progress but say it’s not enough to give them hope that justice will ever be served. “When I went to go do my statement, APD was like look it's going to be about two to four years for your kit to get done, it's shut down, there's a backlog, we need your patience,” says one survivor who asked to remain anonymous.
She says police have questioned her alleged attacker and she believes that her DNA kit would no doubt put him behind bars. “During the kit at Safe Place they have the body, the paper that they put the marks down that could be significant to the case and they were able to put marks like around my abdominal area that was trauma,” she says adding, “the DNA would be very incriminating. The kit itself and the things they found on my body would automatically put it as a non-consensual encounter with that man.”
“Nobody has ever poked a major hole in DNA analysis,” says Defense Attorney Sam Bassett, adding, “so out of the forensic science stuff that is used in the court room it is considered the gold standard."
Bassett served as the Chair of the Texas Forensics Commission from 2006-2009. In June, the Commission delivered a scathing report on the Austin Police Department’s DNA lab. They had concluded that it’s technology was out of date and that technicians weren’t properly trained. Because of that report, APD shuttered the lab. It is scheduled to re-open in February 2017.
“I can imagine law enforcement and prosecutors would try and fast track certain investigations by analyzing DNA,” says Bassett, “and obviously if you don't have the personnel you can't get to it as quickly.”
In a press conference with Austin Police Department Sergeant Jerry Bauzon regarding two recent homicides, FOX 7 asked if the backlog of DNA cases, and the shuttered crime lab, was slowing their crime solving down. “I don't want to say the unsolved cases is because of the backup,” Bauzon said, “but the backup is slowing our effectiveness down. as we submit evidence for DNA testing, we have to wait for the testing to come back.”
A wait that survivors say has gone on long enough, “I've been trying to be as understanding as I can be but at the end I am an individual who has gone through a violent crime that happened to me.”