Crime lab to benefit from grant

GLENDALE — A $2.5-million federal grant awarded to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to reduce a backlog of DNA cases is expected to cut down on the number of local requests tied up at the overburdened regional lab, officials said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the U.S. Department of Justice grant, which would allow the Sheriff's Department to hire two additional criminalists to process DNA evidence from a backlog of sexual assault cases.

The department will also use $1.5 million to enhance its regional crime lab, and to fund overtime pay for lab technicians as they work to move the cases through the system.

"It helps with any backlogged cases that we have or may have in the future," Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

The Sheriff's Department crime lab processes DNA evidence for at least 88 city law enforcement agencies, which authorities said has led to a large forensic backlog.

The funding help for the regional crime lab won't affect the efforts of Glendale police officials to establish their own lab, Lorenz said — a move prompted by the overburdened regional system.

Authorities said samples sent to the county lab took months to process.

In many cases, police had to send DNA samples to more pricey private labs, driving up costs.

And since more serious cases, such as homicide investigations, took priority over property crimes in evaluating DNA evidence, some categories of backlogged evidence built up.

"Those were two problems for us," Glendale Police Chief Ron DePompa said earlier this year in August. "No. 1, how long it took to get violent crime DNA turnaround, and secondly to have access to do property crimes at our discretion."

Police officials, along with the help from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), have since obtained $2 million in federal funding — including $575,513 from the sale of a building used in a Medicare fraud scheme — to establish a regional forensic laboratory to serve Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and other communities.

Another $1 million is awaiting federal approval, police said.

"Given the reduction in crime-fighting resources, we have to rely much more upon good technology to help us do our job, and certainly DNA analysis is a critical component of modern-day crime fighting," DePompa said.

Having a regional crime lab will allow the Police Department to quicken the pace of DNA testing for violent and property crimes and eliminate the backlog, Capt. Lief Nicolaisen said.

"What I like to call this is applying the broken-window theory to forensics," he said. "On the lesser crimes is where we are getting them, and that's preventing our community from being victimized by the larger crimes."

To establish their own crime lab, police officials will have to hire a lead DNA technician, a DNA analyst and other staff, said Sgt. Lola Abrahamian, who will oversee the program's development.

Officials are planning to open the lab within a year and a half, she added.

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