Saturday, June 27, 2009

Crisis or gamesmanship behind proposed CA cuts to DNA testing?

California's forensic labs face an astonishing development as a result of that state's massive budget shortfall: The Los Angeles Sheriff has already halted the practice of sending rape kits out for DNA testing because the department has no money, plus, state crime labs are scheduled to have their budgets cut by half, forcing them to begin charging smaller jurisdictions for services like DNA and other forensic testing that they previously provided for free (as is the case with Texas' state crime labs). According to this item at The Huffington Post, "Last year, the state lab tested evidence in about 50,000 cases, including more than 1,400 containing DNA." Indeed,

Hundreds of police departments and district attorneys' offices in 47 of the state's 58 counties currently rely on the state lab to test their crime scene evidence. The other 11 counties, mostly concentrated in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, have their own labs to test forensic evidence.

But many law enforcement agencies in small or rural counties doubt they'll be able to afford the new charges, which are likely to run about $215 an hour. If the agencies can't pay, the lab will have to close some of its branches and lay off some of its scientists, said Jill Spriggs, the lab's bureau chief.

The agencies also could be forced to shelve thousands of DNA samples, bullet casings and other pieces of evidence used to identify violent criminals. There are already more than 350,000 untested DNA samples nationwide, according to federal government statistics.

Ultimately, some police chiefs said they might have to choose: pay to process evidence, or lose more cops on the streets. More than 1,000 police officers were eliminated statewide in the past year. ...

The proposed cut could go into effect between July 1 and Jan. 1, she said. It's unclear if it would be permanent.

When I first saw the story of the LA Sheriff's decision, I wondered if this was a tactical move - threatening to eliminate a popular and needed function in order to sway public opinion in favor of keeping less defensible parts of his budget. But the cuts to statewide crime labs are a serious proposal in the state legislative budget, which escalates the dilemma to a new level.

I still think, though, that there's a bit of budgetary gamesmanship going on regarding how these issues are portrayed by the media and public officials. Much of the volume for crime lab work isn't for DNA testing but for drug cases, but it's money for processing rape kits getting cut first? That makes little public safety sense. If you're forced to prioritize, surely that function would be a lot farther down the budget cut list?

RELATED: Those interested in tracking the struggles of California's justice system amidst declining budgets should visit the law-prof-run blog, California Correctional Crisis, as well as another good looking blog I ran across recently, Governing through Crime.


Anonymous said...

CA out of money? Obama is making sure we will all be in the same boat. Irresponsible spending will eventual catch up you as CA now sees.

Soronel Haetir said...

I bet they want to keep the money for drug testing techs, even though they claim that is one of the enforcement areas that is going to be de-emphasized.

Anonymous said...

Po Caliphonyia. They chickens has come home to roost.

Anonymous said...

Although DNA testing is likely more expensive than the drug testing, I can't help but suspect there's a profit motive involved if they shelve rape kits before drug testing. Drug testing helps seal up the cases for seizures and forfeitures.

Law enforcement should never have been made to be involved in profit making schemes. Never.

Anonymous said...

In Calif. Governor Wilson’s administration, a study prepared by Philip J. Romero for the Governor’s office found that illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children received about $3.6 billion more in state services than they paid in taxes. The 1994 study was followed up in 1997 with the Jordan Commission’s study of California conducted by the National Research Council. In looking at California’s budget, the study found that there was “a net fiscal transfer to the average immigrant-headed household of $3,463” and that the “net fiscal burden on native households in California is families from Latin America.”

In 2007, Romero updated his earlier work and estimated that illegal aliens in California now receive somewhere between $9.6 and $38.2 billion more in state services than they pay in state taxes.

No matter whether you look at FAIR’s or Romero’s work, or anecdotal evidence, there’s clearly a financial burden to bear for California and its citizens with continued unchecked illegal immigration.