this Nov. 19, 2014 photo, James Andreas, forensic supervisor
in the DNA unit at the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory in
Madison, Wis., checks the blueprints for additional lab
space to accommodate nearly 20 new analysts and techs. The
new workers will handle thousands of incoming samples next
year when a new state law requiring police to obtain DNA
upon arrest for a violent felony and upon all misdemeanor
MADISON — The
state Department of Justice has hired nearly twenty more workers
and begun a pricey renovation of its Madison crime lab so that it
will be able to handle tens of thousands of additional DNA samples
when new collection requirements take effect next year.
currently takes DNA samples from anyone convicted of a felony and
certain sex-related misdemeanors. A Republican-backed law set to
take effect on April 1 dramatically expands the grounds for
requires local police to take DNA from anyone arrested for a
violent felony and to ship the samples to the DOJ, although the
agency won't be allowed to process them until a judge finds
probable cause that a crime was committed in each case. The law
also requires anyone convicted of any misdemeanor to submit a DNA
supporters say collecting DNA samples will help solve more crimes.
Civil rights advocates, though, contend the expanded collection is
an invasion of privacy.
The law means the
DOJ will have to handle tens of thousands of additional samples.
The agency already collects about 12,000 DNA samples from
convicted felons annually and expects to receive 25,000 samples
from felony arrests and 40,000 samples from misdemeanor
convictions next year.
The DOJ operates
crime labs in Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau, although only the
Madison and Milwaukee facilities handle DNA testing. All the
samples from the collection expansion will go to the Madison lab,
said Brian O'Keefe, administrator of the DOJ's Division of Law
generated through DNA surcharges on offenders, the DOJ has hired
and trained eight additional analysts and 11 technicians to handle
the new samples. The agency also has tapped the surcharges to
cover $5 million in renovations at the Madison lab to house the
new workers and all the new samples. Construction began in July
and is expected to be completed by March.
The DOJ's crime
labs struggled in the mid-2000s to keep up with extracting DNA
profiles from crime scene evidence as police and prosecutors
submitted more samples in hopes of finding enough DNA to identify
the suspect. Evidence in nearly 1,800 cases was sitting on crime
lab shelves waiting for testing when Wisconsin Attorney General
J.B. Van Hollen took office in 2007.
convinced lawmakers to let him hire 31 additional analysts and in
2010 declared he had eliminated the backlog. Currently, evidence
in fewer than 500 cases is waiting for testing and the average
turnaround time is 35 days, DOJ officials say.
O'Keefe said the
new law shouldn't extend waiting times.
The new personnel
will be devoted to handling arrestee and misdemeanor convicts'
samples exclusively and they won't have to spend time extracting
DNA from them.
The agency plans
to forward the samples to a private Texas lab that it already uses
to extract DNA from samples from felony convicts. For $20 per
sample analysts there will pull DNA from the saliva, build
profiles and ship them back to Madison. Analysts here will upload
them into state and national databases and look for hits with
profiles of unknown suspects. If they get a match they'll process
the sample themselves to verify the profile, O'Keefe said.