“Three Albuquerque Police Department forensic scientists have a daunting task – closely examine and match thousands of collected fingerprints to suspects in order to help solve crimes.
At the Albuquerque Metropolitan Forensics Science Center, 6,000 latent fingerprint packets are waiting to be processed.
The backlog has increased 20-fold since 2014, according to APD data. In 2014, there were five forensic scientists and approximately 300 backlogged cases. Back then, prints took one to two months to process.
Now, latent fingerprints can wait anywhere from one week to 16 months to be processed depending on the Bernalillo County Case Management Order.
The CMO was created to clear up the Bernalillo County District Court case backlog and to prevent pretrial detainees from waiting in jail for months for their cases to be tried.
Instead, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has said that the CMO has unintentionally put an undue burden on the public because defendants – sometimes repeat offenders – are often released with no bond before their trial.
Though the Albuquerque City Council approved funding to train and employ civilians to be property crime scene specialists in order to help police, the rate at which the civilian specialists have been collecting prints and dropping them off at the metro lab is greatly outpacing its ability to process them.
“We’ve increased our staff to get reports done and collect the evidence, but we haven’t been as proactive in increasing the lab staff to do the backend work,” APD Commander Jeff McDonald said.
‘I GUESS THEY DON’T CATCH ANYBODY’
Criminals have targeted Aragon’s Lawn and Wood Center in northeast Albuquerque more than 30 times over the past decade, according to the owners. It’s gotten to the point where Owner Richard Aragon has slept at his business armed.
The marine veteran was a sniper in the Vietnam War.
“They’re all fully loaded,” Aragon said.
That isn’t the extent of the precautions he has taken. The lawnmower business is surrounded by motion detector lighting, surveillance cameras and concertina wire.
“We can catch them with the infrared (cameras) and we can get good images at night. Some of the pictures that we’ve taken with our surveillance show us the same guy,” he said.
Aragon and his wife, Kathy, are just two of the thousands of property crime victims in the city waiting for justice.
“Nothing that we know of, or at least they don’t tell us anything and I guess they don’t catch anybody,” Kathy Aragon said.
McDonald has a message for the Aragons and others in their situation.
“Be patient. We’re trying,” he said. “We’re trying to get everybody’s cases solved.”
McDonald said there are currently plans to hire two more forensic scientists. Two retired in 2015, but were never replaced.
Still, the hiring process could take anywhere from two to four months. If the applicant is a recent college graduate with limited experience, he or she will have to be trained for a year.
“I joined the police department to help people,” McDonald said. “(It’s) just not at the fastest rate I’d like.”