Among the myriad issues the West Virginia Legislature faces now that the 2020 legislative session is underway, is the inexcusable backlog of cases at the West Virginia State Police Crime Lab.
In 2017, Eyewitness New reported on the number of criminal cases across the state that were awaiting forensic testing — about 5,000.
Since that report, thanks to significant changes in the way the lab operates, that number was cut in half this time last year, and the lab continues to make progress.
According to a release from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, grants and improved funding championed by Gov. Jim Justice have resulted in more competitive salaries, a revamped career progression structure and critical equipment purchases. The WVSPFL now has increased its staff to approximately 50 forensic analysis and technician positions.
“That has absolutely made an amazing difference in the backlog,” said State Police Superintendent Jan Cahill.
The funding benefiting the crime lab included a pair of $1 million transfers by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey from litigation settlement proceeds, in 2016 and 2017, specifically to improve equipment and staffing.
Reducing the pending caseload means fewer delays in criminal cases and trials. That, in turn, will save counties and municipalities on regional jail costs. The State Police estimated in 2017 that improving the turnaround time for pending cases could reduce jail expenses by between $6 million and $15 million annually.
However, the backlog still currently sits at around 1,700 cases.
These cases represent 1,700 unsolved crimes — 1,700 victims who’ve not seen justice, 1,700 criminals who remain free. Justice is not served when a backlog at the crime lab forces a wait time of months or years for cases to be adjudicated.
We hope to see this issue taken seriously this year, and the lab given the additional funding it needs to end the backlog for good.