In an attempt to convince Wisconsin legislators to fund 15 additional crime lab positions — costing $1.8 million in state funds over the next two years — Attorney General Josh Kaul is touring Wisconsin State Crime Lab locations. During a visit Thursday to the lab on the south side of Milwaukee, Kaul was also urging support for a $1.9 million pay plan, which he says is needed to address pay disparities and inequities with comparable crime laboratories in the region.
Both the additional positions and pay issue are included in the state budget proposal Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has submitted to the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The three state crime labs in Milwaukee, Madison and Wausau analyze evidence sent by local and state law enforcement agencies. The analysis includes DNA samples, fingerprints and firearms. There's also a Crime Scene Response Unit that helps at locations of major crimes.
Three of the 15 additional positions sought by Kaul and Evers would be for crime scene responders, one at each lab. Six more DNA technicians would be added, three each at DNA units in Milwaukee and Madison. An evidence technician would be added in Madison, and the Madison lab would also add two firearms analysts.
At a news conference at the Milwaukee site, Kaul said if the crime labs don't have adequate resources, "There's going to be backlogs, and it's going to mean justice may be delayed, in some cases."
On the pay plan, he said crime lab analysts do, "sophisticated, complex work. It takes a significant amount of time to train people, and being able to retain those folks, so they stay here in Wisconsin, to continue doing the work they're doing, is really important."
In response to questioning by reporters, Kaul said a past backlog in the testing of sexual assault evidence kits, known as rape kits, had been cleared up. He said now, the Wisconsin Department of Justice is reviewing cases where there was a DNA match to determine if those cases should be referred for additional investigation and possible prosecutions.
Kaul said testing times for DNA analysis have increased over the last four years. "The average testing time last year was about 80 days. It's a little difficult to do an apples-to-apples comparison," Kaul said, "Because a number of DNA analyses were conducted on kits from the backlog of untested rape kits."
Kaul said, "That won't be an issue going forward, but we are working on shortening turnaround times, so that law enforcement that submits DNA samples for testing get them back in as timely a fashion as possible."
Legislators are also touring the crime labs with Kaul. Three did so in Milwaukee — state Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) and Rep. Rick Gundrum(R-Slinger).
The Republicans declined to speak during the news conference. But afterward, Gundrum told WUWM, "Obviously, there are some things [at the lab] that need to be upgraded, but this will come before the whole [Assembly Republican] caucus. The caucus will discuss the budget as a whole."
Gundrum cautioned, "You have to list your priorities, you know, and everybody has an issue that is No. 1 on their list. Unfortunately, they're not all together on a lot of things. So, we'll have to work it out."
He also expects more discussions soon on where a new Milwaukee crime lab will be located. The Walker administration and Legislature gave preliminary approval to funding a new lab in the region. But a request for construction proposals has yet to be issued.
Kaul said the process of choosing a final site "is going to move forward. It's something I think should move forward, and will move forward quickly."
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee announced Thursday that four budget hearings will be held around the state in April, including one at the Oak Creek Community Center on April 10.
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