HPD cuts backlog at DNA crime lab
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
In the past two years, the Honolulu Police Department's DNA crime lab has significantly reduced its backlog of untested evidence increasing the chances that arrests can be made in unsolved cases.
The backlog of 150 cases with evidence awaiting DNA testing has been reduced to 88 in the past 26 months, said Joanne Furuya, supervisor of HPD's Scientific Investigation Section.
The work was made possible by recent federal grants to the unit that include $200,000 to work on the backlog as well as unsolved or "cold" cases, and $70,000 to $100,000 to upgrade equipment, Furuya said.
Identifying DNA in unsolved cases could allow law enforcement to clear or convict individuals if arrests are made. Officials were unaware of any arrests that have resulted directly from the recent DNA testing.
Meanwhile, City Deputy Prosecutor Rom Trader said HPD's lab recently received additional funding to upload the DNA samples of more than 1,500 convicted local felons.
"What it does is gives us an additional investigative tool," Trader said. "We now have the ability to solve cases where we had no idea who the (suspect) person was."
DNA unit supervisor Wayne Kimoto said the backlog occurred during a period, starting from 2002 to about 2003, when the lab was converting to new technology and analysts were being trained.
Confirming that the backlog is "definitely down," Kimoto said analysts are assigned a certain number of cases from the backlog and given a time allocation to get the tests done. This is in addition to the daily work assignments. The cases are worked depending on the priority assigned to them by investigators.
"We average about two weeks for a simple case," Kimoto said. "The premise is everyone has different DNA except for identical twins. We have to go through the procedure of extracting or removing biological material.
"Unlike what you see on popular television programs, the collection and recovery of samples for cases cannot be put out in a one-hour time slot."
The DNA unit received funding from the National Institute of Justice the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice to set up its Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which enables federal, state and local labs to store and compare DNA profiles of convicted offenders.
An underlying concept to CODIS is to create a state convicted offender profile database, which state lawmakers approved this year.
"Our lab is gearing up for the new law," Furuya said. "The bigger the database the greater the chances of solvability."
There are four DNA analysts and two temporary hires assigned to HPD's DNA unit. "Our goal is to have eight analysts," Furuya said.
HPD's Scientific Investigation Section also has specialty units that examine drugs, firearms, trace evidence, latent fingerprints and questioned documents.
Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org