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Tulsa's DNA lab is in a crisis

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At a time when most crime labs have DNA backlogs of months or years, Tulsa's lab has no backlog and a two month turn-around, one of the fastest in the nation. That's despite the fact only one person works all the DNA cases.

That one person says something has to change. Doctor Valerie Fuller says she loves her job and loves Tulsa. But she's doing three times the cases of the average DNA analyst and getting paid much less.

She recently sent a memo to her superiors asking for help. News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright has her story.

Tulsa’s DNA analyst Dr Valerie Fuller: "This is the raw data coming off. This is one of the cases I'm doing." Unlike in the TV show CSI, where a team of people works on DNA and results come back within minutes, here is the reality, Valerie Fuller is the entire DNA lab for Tulsa.

She does every single case, about 40 percent of all the cases in the state, plus fills three other positions in the lab. Just the lab work for a DNA sample takes three days and there's about eight days of paperwork involved. "I'm just keeping my head above water. I've validated a new technique that lets me do twice the cases at half the money, but, I cannot continue to be a one-person lab."

Fuller says she'd love more pay, but what she really wants is an experienced helper, but she says Tulsa's starting salary is so low, she can't recruit anyone. In fact, the jobs are open in the lab right now, but they can't get people to apply for the money. "I'm not really sure whose job it is to re-evaluate pay scales, but it definitely needs to be re-evaluated."

Her boss, Tulsa Police chief Dave Been agrees and endorsed Doctor Fuller's recent memo outlying her concerns and forwarded it to city hall. "She is a marketable commodity to put it in technical terms and could go anywhere in the US and get double the pay. We appreciate her work, but before long, you need to be rewarded for that."

Doctor Fuller doesn't want to be seen as a complainer, but she says national accreditation standards could soon require a minimum of three DNA analysts and if Tulsa can't hire the people, then it will lose its accreditation, which means losing the DNA lab altogether.

If Tulsa didn't have a DNA lab, the cases would go to the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation. That lab currently has a backlog of six months to two years.

Just in Tulsa's serial rapist case, it took Doctor Fuller an entire month to rule out 75 men as suspects through DNA.

She's hoping the city will see the importance of solving cases like this one and come up with the funding to hire and keep quality people.
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