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Nearly 1000 Drug Cases Not Analyzed; LA Sheriff Says Cutbacks are to Blame

Los Angeles Times via YellowBrix

July 19, 2010

LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Lee Baca says budget cuts have significantly slowed his agency’s analysis of narcotics evidence.

The average backlog in 2009, before the cuts, was 256 cases. That number has more than tripled, according to the department, swelling to 920 unanalyzed cases.

Baca recently cut overtime expenses in an effort to compensate for a $128-million budget cut. News of the backlog comes weeks after The Times detailed significant delays in the department’s collection and analysis of fingerprint evidence. The department also recently drew attention when it released some 200 inmates from the L.A. County jail system early as part of an attempt to cut costs and reduce the time nonviolent offenders spent behind bars.

Despite the reported slowdown in drug analysis, Capt. Ralph Ornelas, with the sheriff’s narcotics bureau, said he was unaware of the growing backlog — and that lieutenants and sergeants he surveyed had not noticed a significant lag in the investigation of drug cases.

“From our perspective, there’s been no problem with dope being tested,” Ornelas said.

Other law-enforcement agencies in L.A. County seem to be bearing the brunt of the lag. These agencies outsource their narcotics analysis to the sheriff’s department.

A detective with the Monrovia Police Department said the sheriff’s department used to return results in a week or two but now take, on average, up to a month. The relatively small police agency sends the sheriff’s department evidence – such as OxyContin pills or rock cocaine – to determine its contents.

“It’d be nice if it was quicker,” said Monrovia police Det. Alex Perenishko. “We’d be able to answer the courts’ questions faster.”

Narcotics analysis requires extensive training, Baca said in a written report to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Department employees trained to do that analysis, the sheriff said, used to handle the load of cases by working overtime.

“The department continues to experience operational impacts, especially within critical support and investigative units,” Baca said in his report.

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