Crime Lab’s DNA Machine Unplugged for Six Years

The ABI Prisim 3100. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The ABI Prisim 3100. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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Police Commissioner James T. Hammer said Wednesday night at the Police Commission meeting that he was “shocked” to discover that a machine capable of testing 16 DNA samples at a time has been unplugged since its purchase “five or six years ago.”

The police have “never had the IT resources in place” to use the machine, he said, adding, “We have very expensive, very fancy equipment sitting out at the crime lab unused.”

The lab has come under attack because of a backlog of untested DNA samples. The machine in use tests one sample at a time. Although Hammer said the newer, unused machine will be incorporated in an ongoing IT project that will be finished in eight months, it’s already somewhat out of date, according to its manufacturer.

The machine is an ABI Prism 3100 that was purchased in 2004 for $139,587.67, according to Lee Woo, an accounting manager for the city.

It’s sold by Life Technologies and was discontinued in 2007. The replacement costs around $200,000, according to Zabi Habibi, a salesman.

The 3100, Habibi said, still works, but runs on the older Windows operating system and not the newer Windows XP.

It’s unclear if San Francisco will be using the newer operating system.

While the lab’s IT department gets up to speed, it will outsource some of its backlogged sexual assault and gun/firearm cases. Currently, six sexual assault cases and some 14 gun cases will be outsourced, commissioners learned at Wednesday night’s meeting.

On the good news front, Commissioner Hammer said that after his visit this week, he believes that the backlogged sexual assault cases are fewer than the 100 mentioned at an earlier meeting.

In other news, Police Chief George Gascón announced that the Los Angeles Police Department will send a team next week to train the command staff and evidence investigators on how to better evaluate evidence.

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