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April 25, 2005

The crime lab really is underfunded!

A week or so ago I ranted about how outrageous it is that the State Police Crime Lab took many months to analyze the DNA sample provided by the guy who has now been arrested for the murder of Truro resident Christa Worthington.  I urged that this should be unacceptable, and rashly said that the only way to solve the problem was to spend more money on the crime lab (which routinely takes six to eight months to analyze samples).  Several comments took me to task for ignoring the role that good old fashioned incompetence seems to have played in the Worthington matter, and I agreed that I shouldn't have jumped straight to spending more money without considering what we could do by way of eliminating stupidity.

However, the AP is now reporting that the crime lab really is grossly underfunded.  According to the article, the lab can handle 300 samples per year - one sixth of the demand, hence the nine-month backlog (the national standard is 30 days).  Each of the state's DAs can only submit four samples per month, and the head of the Mass. DAs association describes DAs as "ludicrously handicapped" in the number of samples they can submit.  The article reports that the legislature and Governor Romney have pledged to double the lab's resources in the wake of the Worthington fiasco.

Good!  They should be devoting more resources to valuable institutions like the crime lab (and, of course, they should also be rooting out incompetence).  And so I ask again, Governor: how can you responsibly push for yet another tax cut, while simultaneously pushing to double the State Police Crime Lab's resources?  First, tell us what you want the government to do, then tell us how you're going to pay for it, and then let's talk about a tax cut.  Republicans have turned this debate completely on its head, and until Democrats are able to alter the discourse, they will keep losing.

Posted by David at 03:08 PM in Massachusetts | Permalink


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Right on Davi. But O'Keefe incompetence caused the delay in this, not the underfunding. This is being used as a convenient excuse by Barnstable County Prosecutors. Fight for more funding, but don't let them get away with using tyhis as an excuse. Pure incompetence.

Posted by: The troll | Apr 25, 2005 3:57:02 PM

There has been no credible evidence presented that delays in identification of the Worthington murder suspect is the result of underfunding. What has been publically stated is that the suspect volunteered a DNA sample shortly after the murder, it was collected more than two years later, received by the Crime Lab after another long delay, and then finally analysed after another long delay. Does this sound like underfunding?

Posted by: Fred Bieber | Apr 26, 2005 12:06:27 AM

As I said, I agree that delays not clearly traceable to underfunding appear largely responsible for the Worthington situation. But as I have also said, I recall from my time in state government that the crime lab really is underfunded, and the information in the article linked above seems to me to bear that out. Four samples per month per DA? Routine turnaround of 6-9 months, where the national standard is 30 days? Able to handle only one-sixth of the load each year? Come on! DNA is an unbelievably powerful tool to solve crimes, but only if you actually have the capacity to analyze the samples.

Posted by: David | Apr 26, 2005 12:26:38 AM

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