By RICH KREMER
Wisconsin Public Radio
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — As Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers advocate for more DNA analysts at the Wisconsin Department of Justice, new data show the backlog of DNA evidence at the state’s crime labs has been cut by nearly half in 2019.
Data obtained by WPR from the DOJ using an open-records request show the number of DNA evidence cases pending for more than 90 days in 2019 decreased from 766 in January to 410 in April.
The DNA backlogs have been hotly debated since reports emerged in 2015 that there were 6,000 untested sexual assault kits in Wisconsin. Former state attorney General Brad Schimel vowed to speed up DNA analysis at the state’s crime labs by increasing funding for the labs and contracting with testing centers in other states. In September 2018, Schimel claimed the state’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits had been eliminated.
Kaul told Wisconsin Public Radio this year’s decrease in the number of DNA analysis cases pending for more than 90 days is partly because of the state’s crime labs finishing up work on a statewide initiative, known as the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, to reduce the number of unsubmitted sexual-assault kits.
“The crime lab’s role in that has largely been completed,” said Kaul. “So, that has allowed analysts to spend more time focused on other DNA cases. Submissions ebb and flow as well. So, there are a number of things that can account for changes in those numbers.”
The backlog of sexual assault kits in Wisconsin became a central issue in the race for attorney general, in which Kaul narrowly defeated Schimel.
Since his election, Kaul has advocated for more support for the state’s crime labs.
Evers proposed a nearly $2 million funding increase and 17 additional positions at the state’s crime lab,s including five DNA analysts, according to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The Republican-led Joint Finance Committee reduced those numbers in its own budget, and instead allocated an additional $722,400 for seven new positions.
Kaul said he was glad to see the added positions approved by the finance committee. He said regardless of the recent numbers, increased support for the state’s crime labs will help prevent future backlogs of critical evidence.
While there’s been an improvement in the last few months, we want to make sure we have a solution in place that’s going to be sustainable for the long term and make sure these delays don’t crop up again down the road,” said Kaul. “And the way we can do that is by making sure we have sufficient resources at the crime labs.”
According to the DOJ there have been eight cases that have been prosecuted using evidence collected from the backlog of untested sexual-assault cases.