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DNA backlog impedes police

October 24, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

With state officials 14 months behind in putting DNA evidence into a database, Los Angeles police detectives are having a tougher time identifying suspects in hundreds of violent crimes, including five that apparently involve serial killers, officials said Monday.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee criticized the backlog and recommended that the full council call on the state to catch up on entering DNA samples into the database.

The backlog involves about 275,000 samples from criminals, said Greg Matheson, assistant director of the city crime lab.

"That is completely unacceptable," said Councilman Jack Weiss, the committee's chairman. "That is 14 months before you are able to know whether that person is responsible for another crime. That's outrageous."

Matheson said the state database -- created by voters in 2004 when they enacted Proposition 69 -- has been hampered by staffing shortages that have been exacerbated by the state's low pay.

Nathan Barankan of the attorney general's office confirmed that employees who update the database are paid significantly less under their contract than similar workers for local law enforcement agencies.

Although a new contract will increase salaries by 14%, Barankan said the attorney general supports having the governor renegotiate the contract to provide even more competitive salaries.

County and city officials have formed a task force to find ways to convey to the governor and Legislature that additional employees are needed, but the City Council should add its voice to the chorus, Weiss said.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the state are authorized to take DNA samples from everyone they arrest who has been convicted of a felony, and the samples are sent to the state for processing and inclusion in the database, said Capt. Kyle Jackson, head of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Bureau.

The LAPD's Cold Case Unit has linked 20 murders to five unidentified suspects through various pieces of forensic evidence, including DNA in some cases.

There is no guarantee that the state's backlogged samples would provide a link with the five serial murder cases, said Det. David Lambkin of the Cold Case Unit, but until they are processed, the police cannot know.

Council members also voiced concern about a backlog of processing fingerprint evidence at the local level, after officials said there are 6,000 unsolved homicides, many with fingerprints yet to be checked against a state or federal database.

The panel also criticized the LAPD for bureaucratic glitches that have resulted in a shortage of civilian specialists needed to create and operate the Teams II computer system to track police officer conduct.

The system is a key component of a court-ordered federal consent decree.

Gerald Chaleff, the LAPD manager in charge of consent decree items, said he would act immediately to ensure that enough civilian specialists were hired to get the system running.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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