Ramsey County Attorney, law enforcement leaders push for funding amid DNA testing backlog

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Minnesota law enforcement leaders joined Ramsey County Attorney John Choi Tuesday morning to discuss the backlog of DNA testing at the state’s crime lab and to request money from the legislature to help improve the rate at which tests are completed.

Choi, as well as St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry, Roseville Police Chief Erika Scheider and Maplewood Public Safety Director Brian Bierdeman, were joined by leaders with the state’s Department of Public Safety and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to request the funding.

“Because of the uptick in violence and cases and incidents that are happening in our community, we have experienced a significant backlog in the ability to do DNA testing, especially on gun cases, and this has become a real issue about how long it takes to get justice in the criminal justice system and then, of course, most importantly, and why it’s so important here for law enforcement is the investigations,” Choi said.

Choi says Gov. Tim Walz’s budget proposal includes $6.1 million for the first year of the next biennium and around $5 million for the following year to help get the BCA’s lab back to a 30-day turnaround in processing evidence for the whole state, and he and local law enforcement leaders urged state lawmakers to approve that funding, which would go toward hiring more forensic scientists and staff.

According to BCA Superintendent Drew Evans, the state lab currently has a 3,800-case backlog, with more cases coming in each day. The lab’s average turnaround time is currently at 142 days, Evans added.

Evans noted that the number of cases submitted to the state lab had been growing steadily but then, in 2020, it spiked nearly 30% and has remained steady at that level since then.

“This has led to significant stresses in our ability to analyze all of the evidence submitted to our laboratory in a timeframe that’s acceptable to us,” Evans said.

Evans said the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is providing temporary funding to allow the BCA to shift a forensic scientist to focus solely on Ramsey County for the next year, but more help is needed for the rest of the state.

“I really believe that in order to get through the challenges that we have right now — because we’re experiencing things in our community that we haven’t experienced in quite some time — and the path out of all of that is really working together, hand in hand, law enforcement, community, prosecutors, just everyone at the table understanding what each other’s challenges are and then getting to work to try to help each other solve those issues,” Choi said.

Choi noted that prosecutors are also getting less cooperation from victims and witnesses of crimes lately, which he said needs to change but also makes the forensic evidence that much more important in criminal cases.

Click the video box above to watch Tuesday’s full press conference.