Stand up for the facts!
Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.
I would like to contribute
If Your Time is short
In 2018, Schimel’s last year, the crime lab took 12,680 cases. In 2021, under Kaul, that fell to 9,297 cases – a nearly 31% drop.
In 6 of the 10 categories tracked, turnaround time was faster in 2018 under Republican Brad Schimel than in 2021 under Democrat Josh Kaul.
But the picture is not as clear-cut as Toney makes it, in that Kaul’s office fares better in four categories.
Delays at the state crime lab have been a front-burner issue every election cycle, including in 2018, when Democrat Josh Kaul won the attorney general’s job on promises to clear a backlog of DNA samples in sexual assault cases.
Now, just as Kaul skewered then-Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, one of the Republican candidates hoping to face Kaul in November 2022 is saying Kaul "is trying to bury his abysmal failure of mismanaging the crime lab."
In an April 14 , 2022, news release, Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney went on to claim that Kaul "is testing significantly less items than former AG Brad Schimel and is still taking longer to test many categories of key items in comparison to Schimel, including DNA."
Is he right?
When asked for data to support his claim, Toney directed PolitiFact Wisconsin to an annual report from Kaul’s own Department of Justice.
We should note that while it’s commonly referred to as the State Crime Lab, there are actually three labs where testing is done – Madison, Milwaukee and Wausau. For our purposes here, we will group them all together.
When looking at overall cases, in 2018, Schimel’s last year, the crime lab took 12,680 cases. In 2021, under Kaul that fell to 9,297 cases – a more than 30% drop.
So Toney is right that Kaul "is testing significantly less items than former AG Brad Schimel."
According to the labs’ 2021 annual report, in the 10 categories analyzed, turnaround took more time in six of them under Kaul than under Schimel.
Let’s start with DNA, since that is what Toney emphasized in his claim.
The report actually breaks down DNA in two areas. DNA analysis involves analyzing and interpreting samples, and comparing them to others. The DNA databank category involves receiving, verifying and analyzing a repository of reference samples.
Before we get started, there is an important nuance to note on the intake and output figures. The output figure can be higher than the input figure, and vice versa, since a sample may come in late one year and not be completed until the next year.
In both DNA areas, under Kaul the crime lab is handling fewer cases and taking longer with them.
In the DNA analysis category, in 2018 the lab had a case intake of 8,626, case output of 5,664 and median turnaround time was 50 days. In 2021, case intake was 3,612, case output was 3,526 and median turnaround was 115 days – more than double.
In the DNA databank category, in 2018 sample intake was 29,900 and turnaround time was 24 days. In 2021 sample intake was 20,736 and median turnaround time was 41 days.
Here are the other five areas where the lab is lagging 2018 numbers:
In the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) category, the quality control figure was 131,412 in 2018 under Schimel and 83,072 in 2021 under Kaul. The system performs comparative analysis of submitted fingerprints, including conducting database searches and provides technical and analytical support to state and federal agencies.
According to the DOJ, this is the check an analyst has to do any time a set of fingerprints is submitted. Analysts check to make sure they’re putting quality prints in the database – that is, ones not smudged or less readable.
"If someone has prints submitted multiple times, even decades apart, our analysts review both sets and retain the clearest version of each finger," said Gillian Drummond, the DOJ spokeswoman.
In the controlled substances category, in 2018 case intake was 5,283, case output was 5,422 and median turnaround time was 35 days. In 2021, case intake was 4,430, output was 3,522 and median turnaround time was 49 days.
So, on those six areas, there generally were fewer cases handled and the median time to complete them was longer, sometimes considerably so. And Toney’s claim was a narrow one – not that turnaround was up in all categories, but in "many" categories.
That said, it’s worth noting Kaul did have a better showing in turnaround time in some areas:
For instance, the median turnaround time in the latent prints category was 43 days in 2021, compared to 139 in 2018, under Schimel. In trace evidence, it was 29 days, compared to 58.
Additionally, in the footwear category, Kaul’s median turnaround was 11 days, compared to 134 under Schimel. And in crime scene responses, Kaul did better, with 155 responses to Schimel’s 122.
The arrival of the pandemic and its effect on daily lives and workplaces nationwide also had an effect at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
In its 2021 report, the Department of Justice noted that COVID-19 created various "challenges" for the agency, affecting its work flow and, in some cases, the ability of staff members to work from home.
For instance, according to department spokeswoman Gillian Drummond, social-distance requirements meant staggered shifts and were tough to address in Milwaukee and Wausau, due to space issues.
"Further, following court closures in 2020, there was a spike in jury trials in 2021, increasing the amount of time staff were away from laboratory benchwork in order to testify," the agency report said. "These consequences of the pandemic impacted case queues and, in turn, turnaround times."
For his part, in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin, Toney argued "the private sector, first responders, prosecutors, and court staff across Wisconsin juggled staffing and Covid issues and found ways to be in person throughout 2021, often in cramped settings."
Both sides make fair points here – even if Kaul’s office may be being selective, in that the COVID conditions they blame for some delays did not seem to hamper other areas, where timeliness improved.
Toney claimed the state crime lab under Kaul "is testing significantly less items than former AG Brad Schimel and is still taking longer to test many categories of key items in comparison to Schimel, including DNA."
Reports from the Department of Justice show that overall cases are down from 2018, Schimel’s last year at the helm, and 2021 under Kaul.
What’s more, in six of 10 categories monitored, including the vital DNA category, the median processing time is up under Kaul, sometimes dramatically so. And while the lab under Kaul improved in some areas, Toney’s claim was limited in scope – to "many categories."
We feel he met that mark, and rate his claim True.
WisPolitics.com, "Toney campaign: Josh Kaul’s abysmal crime lab failures," April 14, 2022
Wisconsin Department of Justice "2021 Annual Report," April 14, 2022
Wisconsin Department of Justice "2020 Annual Report, April 15, 2021
Email, Eric Toney, April 29, 2022
Email and phone conversation, Gillian Drummond, April 27, 2022
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.