No end in sight for clearing backlog of 1,000 Austin Police Department DNA kits

Tuesday's Public Safety Commission meeting shined a light on the slow-moving process of finding solutions to the Austin Police Department's DNA kit backlog and shutdown forensic crime lab.

Tuesday's Public Safety Commission meeting shined a light on the slow-moving process of finding solutions to the Austin Police Department's DNA kit backlog and shutdown forensic crime lab.

No end in sight for DNA kit backlog

During Tuesday’s meeting, Austin Police Department's Assistant Chief Troy Gay said he could not provide an exact date on when APD’s backlog of DNA test kits will be cleared, contrasting the report he gave in December during which Gay told the commission the backlog would be cleared in six months.

Last month, Gay said APD was involved in an interlocal agreement with the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences to allow the department to ship off 100 kits every two weeks for testing.

On Tuesday, Gay said SWIFS has limited APD to only 20 cases per month because of the lab's own backlog. The police department is also sending 20 new cases a month to the Texas Department of Public Safety when in need of immediate results. The department was looking at "all other options" to speed up the process for clearing the backlog, he said, but no solution has been reached.

According to Gay, the backlog is just over 1,000 cases, 615 of which are sexual assault-related.

Council questions remain unanswered

Following an audit by the Texas Forensic Sciences Commission, the APD crime lab shut down in May from what the commission cited as an outdated crime lab with an undertrained staff.

In September, City Council requested a report on what happened and why. On Tuesday, Gay told the commission no one has been hired to conduct the report, which he said would take a minimum of six months to produce. The assistant chief said the police department is talking with a handful of prospective consultants and hopes to have council agree to allow contract negotiations by Jan. 26.

The report would look into what led to the lab’s shutdown and potential solutions moving forward, Gay said. The retrospective analysis will also inform the department if there was a person, or people, directly responsible, and whether an investigation should be launched.

Commission unanimously demands urgency

Gay told the commission it could potentially take another two to three years until APD could begin testing their own kits. Commissioners expressed displeasure during Tuesday's meeting at the slow process.

“This is a malignancy that has been growing for a long time,” Commissioner Michael Levy said.

The Commission unanimously passed a resolution that recommends APD come up with an interim solution to the crime lab within six months.

“The public is owed transparency,” the resolution read. “We recommend the City Council and the APD prioritize finding a solution to the crime lab including allocating necessary funds and staff to ensure an interim solution within six months.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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