AUSTIN -- A massive backlog at the Austin Police Department crime lab is forcing the city and county to look outside for help.
According to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, more than 1,200 criminal cases are currently awaiting lab results.
“We have cases from as far back as last summer that are awaiting results,” explained Police Chief Art Acevedo. “It's really created a problem for prosecutors. It's created a challenge for the courts and the judges and it's created a challenge for defense attorneys whose clients are waiting in limbo. We really owed it to them and we owe it to them to try to catch up on this backlog.”
Judge Biscoe sent a letter to Austin City Manager Marc Ott proposing a team effort to clear the backlog. Tuesday morning commissioners unanimously agreed to split the cost of hiring outside lab technicians to process evidence.
Currently Biscoe says there are more than 280 drug cases and more than 1,000 alcohol-related cases awaiting testing.
It will cost roughly $103,000 to use outside labs to help eliminate the backlog. Biscoe says outside labs would charge about $138 to complete a drug test and $69 to process a blood test.
The agreement commissioners approved on Thursday splits the cost down the middle with both the county and city paying half the cost.
After the current cases are closed, Chief Acevedo says the APD crime lab should be able to handle future demand on its own. Last month Austin City Council members approved the salaries for three more lab employees. Chief Acevedo says the department has since filed those positions. The new employees are expected to start training as soon as next week.