By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — DNA evidence plays a crucial role in cracking about a third of all criminal cases, but the workload it puts on sophisticated crime labs can often lead to serious backlogs in getting the evidence processed.

Now, a federal grant will help forensic scientists in Anoka County be twice as productive.

Scott Ford is the director of the Midwest Regional Forensic Laboratory, based at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. The laboratory is at the heart of evidence analysis for law enforcement agencies in the northwest metro.

“When I first started in the field we’d have to collect at a crime scene a dime size amount of blood in order to do something with it. Now, point touch DNA has become so prevalent,” Ford said.

As crime fighting gets more sophisticated, so too become the tools necessary to process those tiny amounts of DNA. So the cooperative laboratory acquired a comprehensive robotic work station, called the Eppendorf EP Motion. It can do overnight what would take a scientist a couple of days.

“That’s the beauty of it. We can fill it up with pipette tips, put the samples in there, push start and walk away,” Ford said.

Even with the liquid handling robot, processing 2,400 cases a year causes backups. So the lab applied for a U.S. Department of Justice NIJ grant to purchase equipment to reduce DNA backlogs. The $145,000 grant will allow the lab to purchase a second Eppendorf EP Motion robot.

DNA evidentiary samples from the three counties of Anoka, Sherburne and Wright continues to grow by 15% to 20% per year, which contributes to the heavy workload.

“The number of samples keeps going up and up every year. We provide training to a number of law enforcement agencies, and the more training we provide the better they get at collecting it,” Ford said.

The device is crucial in giving accurate results much more efficiently, bringing irrefutable evidence to cases both major and mundane.

It is expected the money will be released in 2020 and the purchase could be made late summer or early fall.

Bill Hudson