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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

State crime lab getting even slower at processing evidence



Florida's crime lab is getting even slower at processing forensic evidence as the state's top law enforcement agency continues "hemorrhaging" workers who leave to find better-paying jobs in other states or counties, state officials say.

In the latest quarterly performance reports, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showed that in almost every category, the agency has gotten slower at processing evidence than it was in the previous quarter and demonstrably worse than a year ago.

For example:

• Extracting latent prints was taking 87 days to process from January to March. By the end of June it was taking 91 days.

• DNA and biology samples that took 85 days to process earlier in the year, are now taking 88 days.

• And computer evidence processing was taking 113 days to move early in the year. Now, it is 119 days. Last year during the same period, it was taking 84 days to process computer evidence. The agency's stated goal is 70 days.

"The turnaround times are going in the wrong direction," FDLE commissioner Richard Swearingen told a key House committee this week in pitching for increased funding to fight the problem.


The Times/Herald reported in September that delays in getting lab results are forcing sheriffs and other local police agencies to turn to costlier ways of dealing with requests. Some counties have created their own crime labs to process evidence while others use private labs, despite significantly higher costs.

Swearingen said the problem is clear: staff turnover. "We are losing lab analysts at an unsustainable rate," he said.

He blamed a "hemorrhaging" of lab analysts and their supervisors on low pay. In his formal budget request to the Legislature, Swearingen said he has lost 107 crime lab analysts and supervisors out of a staff of 297 in the last five years. He said almost forty percent of those who have left cited better pay at other labs.

FDLE analysts make just under $41,000 on average, according to the agency. That is nearly $20,000 less than what some county crime labs pay in Florida.

Replacing lost expertise is particularly difficult from the crime lab he said. It can take two years to fully train new workers, making it difficult to catch up on a worsening backlog of lab requests.


Swearingen told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday that he is seeking almost $4 million to provide pay raises to 297 workers. That would give $10,000 pay raises to crime lab analysts and $12,000 to senior lab analysts. Those raises would make FDLE competitive with other agencies, Swearingen said.

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[Last modified: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 8:08pm]


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