Wisconsin crime labs still experiencing backlog from COVID-19

The pandemic and court backlogs play a part in these crime lab delays, but Wisconsin is doing better than other states, even without the added funding
Published: Aug. 28, 2023 at 4:52 PM CDT
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MARATHON COUNTY, Wis. (WSAW) - Wisconsin crime labs are still experiencing a backlog of evidence and court cases because of COVID-19. The Wisconsin DOJ originally had funding available to outsource testing, but they’re having trouble finding private labs to help with work.

Now, those funds are being reallocated to the office of school safety, and not being used for crime labs. The pandemic and court backlogs both play a part in these crime lab delays, but Wisconsin is doing better with delays than other states, even without the added funding.

“When you look at the data comparing Wisconsin’s median turnaround time to those from other labs around the county, in a number of disciplines our turnaround times are faster,” said Josh Kaul, Attorney General for the Wisconsin DOJ.

A couple of years ago the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office experienced struggles with these delays, but they say it’s been getting better.

“We’ve been really happy with the turnaround that they’ve had for DNA analysis. They’ve also been able to train us on new things that are possible,” said Captain Jeff Stefonek with the Marathon County Sherriff’s Office.

Turnaround times in crime labs vary by what type of testing is happening. They do everything from DNA analysis to toxicology, to controlled substance analysis. They also respond to crime scenes in some cases across the state.

“The DNA analysts have switched the type of method that they use to conduct that analysis. They now do what’s called probabilistic genotyping, which allows them to get results in more cases, which is great,” said Kaul.

That means they can solve more cases, but also means they need to do more work to get results in an individual case. The DOJ has been trying to outsource crime lab testing so that delays can be resolved. They received more than one million dollars in COVID-19 relief funding to help with testing. The problem is, that even though these funds were available, they couldn’t be used. This is because there’s quite some competition for private analysis.

“States around the country also have labs, they also have to worry about analysis,” said Kaul.

It’s frustrating for some, but Captain Stefonek understands things like this just take time.

“It’s frustrating in that era of people watching CSI crime scene TV shows they expect everything to happen really quickly and all those resources to be available really quickly and the crime gets solved. We know that’s not how it really works,” he said.

Kaul says that the DOJ is going to continue to try and get resources and support from the legislature to ensure that the evidence is tested efficiently.