AUSTIN (KXAN) - A crippling backlog of DWI blood evidence cases at Austin’s police forensics lab is all but gone. KXAN has learned people who were waiting as long as six months for intoxication blood results now get them in weeks.
It's thanks in part to new hires and a new way of doing business.
The lab's manager says the fix involved new manpower and new detection equipment that allows analysts to test the alcohol content in more blood samples at once. There is also a new emphasis on cross training all lab chemists in both blood and drug analysis.
“Our commitment to the city of Austin and Travis County was to get the backlogs into a manageable level,” Bill Gibbens said.
Last spring, the backlog reached 1,200 cases as Austin’s growth continued and police conducted more ‘no refusal’ drunk driving campaigns. Delays in handling cases eclipsed six months.
“Currently we have less than a hundred cases and we're getting those done in less than three weeks. We have made a considerable improvement.” Gibbens said noting his team now gets through up to 60 cases a week as more come in all the time.
The reduction in backlog at the crime lab is having a positive ripple effect at the County District Attorney's Office. By statute, felony DWI and drug cases have to be indicted within 90 days. Now, staff are happy to report lower case backlogs as well.
“Back in March we had 120 or so (felony DWI) cases that were waiting on lab results. (Now there are) around 20. So they (at the crime lab) have really knocked out the felony cases,” said Assistant DA John Lopez.
Felony DWIs involve someone arrested after a second conviction or who has a passenger younger than age 15 in their vehicle at the time of arrest. Others drunk driving arrests are treated as misdemeanors and are dealt with in the County Attorney’s Office.
Assistant DA Lopez said the biggest benefit of clearing this many felony DWI cases is shorter wait times for those waiting anxiously next door at the jail and the costs associated with keeping them there.
“If you're charged with a crime, there's a lot of uncertainty," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen to you even."
The main case backlog involved DWI cases where blood alcohol is the main element used to determine intoxication. While those numbers are down, the lab has processed 1,730 cases as of August 30.
That’s about 200 a month or on track to reach 2,400 by the end of the year.
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