Sexual assault kit

A sexual assault evidence kit.

Georgia lawmakers are concerned that proposed cuts to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's budget could increase a sexual assault kit backlog.

The agency receives more than 200 sexual assault kits a month, but, with the lab's staff, is only able to work on about 100, GBI Director Vic Reynolds said. If the pattern continues, the state could have a backlog of close to 2,000 cases by the end of the year. 

Yet, Reynolds has proposed cutting nine vacant positions to meet Gov. Brian Kemp’s mandate to streamline spending.

Kemp ordered state departments to reduce their budgets in fiscal year 2020 by 4 percent and 6 another percent in fiscal 2021. Reynolds presented a budget to the House Appropriations Public Safety Subcommittee on Monday that cuts the agency’s budget by 3 percent in fiscal 2020 and 5 percent in fiscal 2021. Reynolds plans to start by eliminating three scientists and two lab tech positions this fiscal year, which would result in a savings of $704,324, according to the agency’s amended budget.

There are 154 scientists currently employed at the GBI crime lab, while there are 29 vacant positions, Reynolds told lawmakers. Nine of the vacant positions already are funded for new hires. Applicants are going through the interview process.

The number of backlog cases has fluctuated over the years, Reynolds said. Each year, the bureau has gone before the committee to address the deficit in scientists, but the problem persists.

Reynolds said he plans to address the issue by outsourcing drug cases and DNA tests for less serious crimes to private labs. GBI currently pays a private lab $160 per case, but the bureau currently leans on limited federal money to outsource the work.

“The lab that we are contracted with right now told me last week, ‘We can do a 1,000 a month,’ ” he said.

Reynolds told lawmakers he would have to find additional funds for more outsourcing.

It is not clear whether the nine vacancies will directly impact the scientists who are assigned to sexual assault kit testing.

The director said the specifics about the caseload of the nine vacancies would not become available until the agency’s projected retirements and resignations occur. Nonetheless, Reynolds has vowed to make the kits a priority.

“I will make a commitment that I’ve made before to the whole committee, there is nothing inside the lab more important to me than doing the sexual assault kits,” said Reynolds, who plans to transfer personnel from other departments, if necessary.

Committee Chairman Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, recommended Reynolds ensure none of the cuts will affect any of the forensic biology scientists.

 “I would ask for you to provide for us the anticipated salaries for the scientists that you would need to do the DNA testing, and that way we could start to look at a budget cost,” Welch said. “If you need the lab techs for those purposes to assist with that DNA testing, we will also like to know that number as well.”

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.