AUSTIN (KXAN) — True crime television shows have led to increased job interest and applications at the Austin Police Crime Lab, but so far, the lab has been unable to translate that interest into progress on a fingerprint backlog which takes up to two years for some cases.
“Because of the interest in those shows, we get more applicants. The problem is getting the right applicant,” said Assistant Forensic Manager Jerry Pena. “Somebody with the proper background, knowledge and education.”
In September, the lab told KXAN the typical backlog for fingerprint analysis was running between 9 and 12 months. Growth, staffing issues and recent turnover were blamed for the back-up which usually run up to six months under optimal circumstances. At the time, the lab set a goal of eliminating the backlog in one year’s time.
Just this week, police filed charges for a burglary at Ranch 616 dating all the way back to December 2012. A fingerprint collected from a tequila bottle the morning of the burglary was finally examined and identified a subject on Feb. 20, 2015.
While the goal is still to eliminate the backlog in one year, Pena said that progress will only be made once all positions are hired and properly trained. “We have not seen much improvement in the backlog due to the face we have hired new personnel.”
Pena said two positions were recently filled and two more remain to be hired. Still, the training process can be a lengthy one and those new positions cannot tackle cases until training is complete. That is why a large applicant pool can help, but still may not result in a large number of qualified workers.
“Those fresh out of college are looking for forensics jobs. That’s not a problem. But the ones we are trying to target are the ones with some experience so we can cut down on the training part of it,” he explained. The APD Crime Lab has worked with St. Edward’s University’s Forensic Science program to help students get internships and experience.
Another obstacle for the latent print lab is even though there is excitement and interest about forensics, most of it is geared towards crime scene work rather than the print analysis which can be tedious at time.
“Looking through glass at a finger print all day does not appeal to them,” said Pena.
The Public Safety Commission recommended four new positions for the fingerprint lab to keep up with case load and growth. A decision to fund those positions will have to come from the city council in their budget process.