Steamboat police frustrated as cases face delays at CBI

Evidence stuck in state backlog

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— Several high-profile police invest­­igations have come to a grinding halt in Steamboat Springs, and it has nothing to do with the pace of detective work at the local level.

Rather, local law enforcement officials find themselves waiting for results from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Grand Junction office. The office handles all forensic testing, including fingerprints and DNA, for the Western Slope — and they are slammed with requests.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Detective Dave Kleiber said the analysts at the CBI offices do a good job with their work, but it regularly takes months to get a response.

“Just something as simple as latent fingerprints, if we can get those back in four months that’s a miracle,” he said.

As he looked through files on his desk, he had examples of cases sent to CBI in November and September 2009 that are awaiting results.

“I probably have a dozen cases right now that I’m waiting on evidence to be processed by them (before) I can go forward with stuff,” he said.

One of the notable delayed cases is the reported sexual assault in October, where a woman said she was sexually assaulted in downtown Steamboat Springs. There are no suspects in the case and no evidence other than the forensic evidence sent to CBI. Kleiber said he’s staying in contact with the victims in the reported cases, but he said he understands the delays can be frustrating.

The Routt County Sheriff’s Office also relies on CBI, but Investigator Ken Klinger said the few cases submitted recently have been rush jobs — he requested they be done fast, and they were.

Both Klinger and Kleiber said the CBI does a good job of making deadlines when they need to. Law enforcement agents can tell CBI when court hearings are scheduled. Steamboat police Detectives Capt. Bob DelValle said the police department has not lost any cases because of delays, though some cases possibly were rescheduled to accommodate the delays. He said it’s not uncommon to get the forensic results back just weeks before a major trial.

In Craig, Investigations Com­­­­mander Bill Leonard said the problem isn’t confined to Routt County. Across Colorado agencies have to rely on the CBI offices, and he said they see similar delays to those reported in Routt County, although they don’t have as many cases outstanding.

Police departments have the option of using private labs, but it can be cost-prohibitive for law enforcement agencies. All forensic work performed by CBI is free to police agencies.

CBI spokesman Lance Clem said one reason for the backlog is that new investigative technology results in more evidence being secured from crime scenes.

He also said the processing speed at the Grand Junction office will improve in the coming months as the agency brings a new computer on board.

Clem said the backlogs are only for DNA analysis and gun examinations. He said the laboratory also is finishing a yearlong accreditation for a DNA analysis robot, and it could be up and running within about a week.

That machine will process 96 DNA samples at a time and can run overnight, when human analysts are not working.

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