LOS ANGELES (AP) — Detectives investigating burglaries, auto thefts and other property-related crimes in Los Angeles have been forced to wait an average two to three months to get fingerprints analyzed because of an employee shortage at the Police Department's Latent Print Unit.
The backlog of 2,200 cases means fingerprint analysis in some active criminal investigations is being delayed more than a year, and in some older cases it is ignored altogether.
LAPD officials have come up with a rationing plan to address the backlog, at least for property-related cases, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday. It will be rolled out in coming months.
The plan will not apply to homicides, sexual assaults and other violent crimes, which are handled separately. Detectives investigating such crimes usually wait up to eight weeks for results.
"We're taking in more than we can process," Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said. "We have to look at our capacity."
Under the rationing plan, each of the LAPD's 21 stations and divisions will be allowed 10 cases a month in which property-crime fingerprint evidence will be promptly analyzed.
Additionally, a handful of officers will be trained to collect fingerprints at crime scenes so print unit specialists can spend more time analyzing prints in the lab.
The backlog has been frustrating for detectives.
"In a perfect world, we'd get results back in a day or two," Detective Michael Brausam said. "The longer you leave these criminals out on the street, they're likely going to be committing more crimes. And, if you do get a match on prints months later, it can be much harder to prove your case."
Since a 2009 hiring freeze, the LAPD's Latent Print Unit lost 27 of its 97 analysts. Budget-trimming furloughs and injuries also have added to the backlog.
"We could solve a lot of crimes if we had more people," said Yvette Burney, commanding officer of the department's crime labs.
The demands on the fingerprint unit continue unabated, the Times reported. Last year, detectives requested fingerprints at 19,000 crime scenes, and that pace continues this year.