2 of 10 on Backlogs: Definition Problems – What Are We Measuring?

Yesterday, in our first of 10 posts in 10 days on backlogs, we talked about the variations in definitions of the term backlog, especially in length of time.

Definition problems are further complicated by differences in what is being measured for the backlog –

cases a case is an event requiring investigation — depending on complexity, number of victims, number of suspects, available evidence, training of those processing the scene, and other variables, a single case may require a large number of tests.  Saying, “We have a backlog of five cases,” might translate into five tests  – or five hundred or more.

evidence one piece of evidence does not equal one test.  Many require a number of tests.  A bloody footprint may involve footwear impression, trace evidence, and even DNA examinations. Likewise, a rape kit may require several tests.

tests the individual processes of analysis the lab uses to determine findings about the evidence

outsourced testing in addition to what is actually in process at the lab’s own physical location, the lab or law enforcement agency may have sent evidence to the FBI, private labs or other facilities for testing.  Sometimes this is done because a lab lacks the capability to perform certain tests (for example, specialized engineering tests) and other times it is a matter of capacity and workflow.  A case may be delayed while waiting for tests to return.

reports information about the analysis given back to the requesting agency, reports will often be scrutinized by both investigative agencies and those involved in court proceedings.  We’ll talk more about this soon, but recent court decisions about reports have also had a major impact on labs and backlogs.

samples this area is often overlooked by those who talk about evidence backlogs, but a backlog of unprocessed DNA samples from offenders or a backlog of processing fingerprints from background checks and arrestees can make all the difference in bringing a criminal to justice and to public safety.  Forensic science largely works through exclusion and matching — if there is no offender’s matching sample to compare to evidence, answers wait.

submission of data to databases — samples and testing may be completed, but there are time-consuming processes involved in uploading of prints to IAFIS, DNA results to CODIS, firearms information to NIBIN, etc.

certificates in addition to preparing reports, some agencies must issue certificates that are not as complex as reports but which contain important information and which will make a big difference to the people waiting for them.  Background checks may decide whether or not someone may be employed at a given place, may operate a certain type of vehicle, may adopt a child.  Employers, shippers, and children may all be waiting for results.  Any individual who has been forced to wait a long period of time for a death certificate from a  coroner’s or medical examiner’s office can tell you of the many matters — some of them vital to a family’s economic survival — that cannot be settled until a death certificate is available.

In addition to all of the above, there is also evidence deliberately left unprocessed.


More tomorrow.

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