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Hamilton County receives $1 million grant to fix its forensic gun testing backlog

Tana Weingartner
The new Hamilton County Coroner's Office and Crime Lab in Blue Ash.

Hamilton County is home to one of 14 certified crime laboratories receiving grant money to address the backlog of forensic cases caused by the uptick in crime during COVID-19. The Hamilton County Coroner and Crime Laboratory is getting $1 million of the total $10 million in funding.

Hamilton County's forensic gun testing backlog has nearly doubled in three years. DNA cases have also increased by several hundred during that time. A new $1 million grant will go toward more local employees and equipment.

Crime Lab Director Michael Trimpe says a DNA analyst and firearm examiner will be hired in August to help with the backlog of tests.

"In 2019, we had about a 200 case backlog of firearms cases, just so many shootings and cases to work on," he said. "We had a backlog of 200. Then today, we've got a backlog of 380 cases. Now, that's a lot of cases, and it covers a lot of years."

The total number of all DNA cases in 2019 was 828 and in 2021, there were 1,194.

He says evidence for homicides and upcoming court cases takes priority, and testing can take weeks, sometimes around 45 days. With the new funding, he'd like for the crime lab to complete tests in around 20 days instead.

The forensic testing, Trimpe said, is essential to solving crimes. He explained firearm examiners analyze guns and bullets used in crimes. DNA analysts handle other items from crime scenes.

"DNA is used in all kinds of cases. So if … a suspect leaves a hat at a scene or a cigarette butt or touched a doorknob or whatever, you can get DNA off of these items. And they can put that DNA into CODIS, which is the database of DNA, and get hits," he said. "So, they can link one scene to another, so find serial rapists that way. They can link a victim to a suspect or vice versa. And so they can determine whose DNA was at the scene or on the victim or and help solve cases that way."

It's not the first time the labs have had backlogs. It's happened in the past and the lab employees just chip away at the prioritized cases, Trimpe says. But it's the first time the lab can hire more employees to address the problem.

A new $55 million crime and coroner lab opened in Blue Ash last year, making space for more examiners and analysts to work.

A news release from Governor Mike DeWine's office says the grant money is part of the American Rescue Plan funds.

"Ohio’s crime laboratories attribute current evidence backlogs to workforce issues caused by COVID-19 and the nationwide increase in violent crime also caused by the pandemic," the statement says.

The grant money goes into effect Aug.1 and ends in August 2024. Trimpe says Hamilton County officials have already committed to keeping the extra staff onboard after the funding ends.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.