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APD: More employees needed to process police evidence

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 by Michael Kanin

Federal prosecutors and at least one district judge have complained about the Austin Police Department’s inability to process evidence in a timely manner, perhaps a result of having too few employees.

 

In remarks to members of the city’s Public Safety Commission Monday, Assistant Chief Brian Manley noted that a lack of employees in the department’s DNA labs is at least partially responsible for a six-to-nine month delay in processing. He noted similar issues in the APD forensics lab.

 

In all, Manley said that APD needs to fill 119 non-sworn positions. Those include what he called immediately critical needs – 38 jobs, including positions in the forensics and DNA labs. “This is not to indicate that the other positions are not sorely needed at this point,” Manley said. “It’s just a realization that we understand that we have to prioritize.”

 

Manley told commissioners that the total cost of filling the empty slots is not yet available. He told In Fact Daily that the specific number of jobs he’s asked for in each department is not yet public.

 

The figures appear to kick off an early push by police to fill a host of positions in the department through Austin’s FY2014 budget process. In the coming months, officials are expected back before Public Safety commissioners with a request for more sworn officers.

 

Manley said that the coming request would reflect a recent service study that called for more APD officers. Though APD Chief of Staff David Carter said that the department would make no capital requests in conjunction with the results of the service study, he predicted that police would need to spend capital funds as the department grows.

 

According to Manley, “We’ve currently received feedback from both federal prosecutors and a district judge that we’re having some challenges with prosecutions in cases because of the backlog of cases and the time lag it’s taking to get the evidence processed.”

 

Manley asked for an unspecified number of forensic scientists to help with the issue.

 

A dramatic increase in the use of DNA to solve open cases has also contributed to a backlog in that lab. “We currently are using DNA to regressively solve property crimes,” Manley added. “We’re having a pretty good success rate there. (But) the result of that is a backlog in DNA analysis.”

 

He noted that the sooner police are able to find suspects through DNA analysis the quicker they could get those individuals off the streets – an effort that could reduce future crime, Manley argued.

 

Manley also asked for the city to pick up the tab for two grant-funded victim witness counselors. “Those grants will expire this year,” he said. “It’s imperative that we find funding within the city’s budget. We cannot afford to lose those two positions.”

 

Manley also requested 10 other victim witness counselors, in addition to the two currently grant-funded positions.

 

Last year, police officials faced questions over call-answering delays in the city’s 911 department. It became clear that city 911 could use more operators. Commissioner Mike Levy asked why Manley hadn’t called for additional 911 employees.

 

Manley offered a diplomatic response that pointed to the realities of big-city budgeting. “We were very fortunate last year to get 12 of our grant-funded (call) positions converted to full-time positions,” he said.

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