State Crime Lab backlogged, looking at hiring

BISMARCK, N.D. - More cases, more problems.

The State Crime Lab is down a number of employees and leaders say it doesn't have enough manpower.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says his office posted a new DNA analyst job this week. This comes a week after the state auditor released a report showing lab techs are taking 75 days longer to test DNA and 26 days longer to test drug chemistry.

Stenehjem says lawmakers approved the new DNA analyst position during the legislative session. Rewind to 2017, Stenehjem says they had to make cuts. His office had to cut several analyst positions. Now, there are six scientists and one evidence technician looking at cases from all across the state.

"It just kind of slows the wheels of justice. It's just going to take longer," said Sgt. Mark Gaddis, BPD investigations unit.

Cases are piling up fast and are overwhelming the staff.

"You have no idea, you can be in the middle of a case, and you get called out to go and log in evidence," said Robyn Quinn, crime lab director

Scientist have to pause research and analysis to help the lab stay afloat.

"It's a juggling act," said Quinn.

"We will be looking at hiring some temporary additions now," said Stenehjem.

And revisit the issue next session.

"We want to make sure we have the resources, so that we can serve the law enforcement community and promote safety in North Dakota," said Stenehjem.

Quinn says minimizing in person court appearances for scientists would be helpful.

"If they're subpoenaed for a case in an outlying county, not in the Burleigh County area, where they're located, they're gone for an entire day. That's another day of testing that's pushed back to the back burner," said Burleigh States Attorney Julie Lawyer.

Quinn says analysts can teleconference in to court, cutting down drive time, but some prosecutors say that can lead to problems.

The state auditor recommends putting a fee for requests. Stenehjem says that's not on the table right now, although the law does allow them to charge. He fears law enforcement would be reluctant to submit evidence. He says another issue he sees is if the money is collected then it would go into the general fund and wouldn't help the crime lab issues.