New NOPD Crime Lab director making much-needed DNA lab a top priority

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – The $25 million New Orleans crime lab building remains under construction as the city works to once again get its own forensic DNA lab.

The New Orleans Police Department on Tuesday (Jan. 31) introduced their newly hired crime lab director, Dr. Shamika Kelley.

“We want to make sure that we’re able to have DNA here. It’ll create positions and it will help us to hopefully get answers in a much quicker fashion,” says Dr. Kelley.

The DNA lab could be extremely valuable in solving some of the city’s most violent crimes. Experts say processing more samples could be a way of stopping serial criminals.

Dr. Kelley says her priority is getting that DNA lab up and running.

According to the NOPD, right now, most DNA exhibits are stored, untested in central evidence and processing. The NOPD has lacked the capacity to test DNA samples in-house ever since Hurricane Katrina. Instead, DNA samples are sent to the Louisiana State Police lab in Baton Rouge, but there’s a serious backlog there.

Data shows, and law enforcement sources confirm, DNA from most carjackings, burglaries, robberies, and even auto thefts never get sent to the state crime lab.

One source tells FOX 8 that in more serious cases like homicides or sex crimes, police and prosecutors often have to pick and choose which samples to send off.

More: Zurik: Over 70,000 DNA samples sit untested in NOPD evidence collection

Dr. Kelley says the accreditation board will visit the lab in August and decide whether it will be able to gain the accreditation it needs to move forward.

Even with the building still under construction, the hiring process is getting underway by the end of this week.

“We were able to develop DNA positions that will support the DNA unit. So we’ll have 15 positions that will be posted by the end of this week, and we’ll start the hiring process. My plan is to get the right people in the right places. Phase two then will be ordering the equipment that we need, and we’ll have to validate all that,” says Dr. Kelley.

Dr. Kelley says her goal is to have a data-based, decision-making lab. She has 12 years of forensic experience in Houston and says she knows the importance of DNA. Even with all the planning and work to open the lab, Dr. Kelley says there is still no timeline on when that will happen.

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