Waiting for Justice: Inside the Iowa crime lab - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waiting for Justice: Inside the Iowa crime lab

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Ankeny (KWWL) -- Physical evidence is often key in solving crimes and convicting criminals, and the people who process that evidence are under a lot of pressure to get evidence turned quickly.

Guns, ammunition, fingerprints, DNA, drugs: if it's evidence that needs to be processed for a case, it goes to the State Crime Lab in Ankeny. Just around 50 criminalists handle more than 15,000 cases a year.

"We do have a bit of a backlog. That has developed since January as far as things started to grow as far as numbers of cases waiting to be examined," Gary Licht, criminalist supervisor, said.

The average turnaround for a piece of evidence right now is 40 days but can stretch as long as six to seven months in crowded sections, like firearms.

"It all depends on the sizes of the cases, what's going to court, and what can be worked in as smaller cases around other ones," Licht said.

Cases aren't necessarily taken in the order they come in; the ones with threat to society go first, then death investigations, speedy trial requests which must be done in 90 days, and then chronological order.

A backlog now comes from fewer staffers, more evidence, and a few big cases. It's something local investigators have to watch for.

"We pay attention to what's going on around the state too. If there's been a series of murders across the state of Iowa, they're going to have an even bigger backlog, so we might hold off on sending some things or might wait on some things," Captain Mark Dalsing said.

For the public and crime victims, expectations can run high, especially when you see whiz bang technology on television crime dramas. While on television, you may see a case solved in just about a half hour in a crime lab; in reality, it takes anywhere from two hours to two months to get results back.

"When an item comes in, it may need to go to three different sections. It might start out by going to the dna section first, then to latent prints, and third to the firearms section," Licht said.

State crime lab officials say the backlog is significantly better managed now than several years ago. The lab was as much as two years behind before building a new facility and adding some staff in 2006.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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