DNA test backlog in Minnesota causing problems for law enforcement

Ramsey County law enforcement requested more funding to help decrease the turnaround time in cases by tackling a growing backlog of forensic tests in Minnesota crime labs.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said an uptick in violent cases is causing a significant backlog in DNA testing at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) labs which is affecting the justice system. 

"We can’t even get the case presented to our office because we’re waiting on laboratory tests," Choi said during a press conference Tuesday morning. 

The Minnesota BCA currently has a backlog of 3,800 cases, said BCA director Dew Evans. The demand for testing "far outpaces" the BCA's capacity to handle it, as scientists could only complete 730 forensic testing reports in January.

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The BCA director said violent crime and weapons cases submitted to the BCA grew at least 30% in 2020 and have remained steady.

15 October 2019, Bavaria, Amberg: ILLUSTRATION - A police officer examines a fingerprint with a magnifying glass in the forensic laboratory. Photo: Armin Weigel/dpa (Photo by Armin Weigel/picture alliance via Getty Images)

"We can’t keep up with the current case submissions or gain ground on that backlog with our current staffing," Evans said. 

So Gov. Tim Walz and law enforcement agencies are asking Minnesota Legislature for additional funding to hire more staff and scientists to increase turnaround times in forensic testing. 

Evans said the average turnaround time is currently 142 days, including rushed cases and cases that take much longer. However, the goal is for the turnaround time to reach 30 days by the end of 2025. 

In the meantime, the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office is temporarily helping the problem by providing funds to the BCA for some scientists to focus solely on violent criminal cases in Ramsey County for the next year. 

"A local unit of government shouldn’t have to do this," Choi said. 

While the funding is a short-term solution that will allow county agencies to move more quickly to receive scientific results in violent crime cases, the agencies say they need help from the government.