ALBANY - New York state will hire more forensic scientists to help tackle a backlog of thousands of untested evidence kits from alleged sexual assaults, according to the head of State Police.
Superintendent George Beach told state lawmakers this week that his agency has approval to hire 26 additional scientists, who will help ensure State Police can handle an influx of untested kits making their way to its forensic labs.
The staffing boost was spurred in part by a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, which set statewide requirements for the timely testing of sexual assault evidence kits.
That law requires police agencies across the state to send their backlog of untested kits -- which totals thousands statewide -- to forensic labs by the end of April.
At a state budget hearing Wednesday, Beach said State Police has surveyed other police agencies across the state to try and determine how many kits will be coming the state's way.
"We believe based on those surveys that these additional 26 people will allow us to meet the demands that are being placed upon us," he said.
Across the country, evidence collected from thousands of potential sexual assaults goes untested each year.
A USA TODAY Network investigation in 2015 found at least 70,000 untested evidence kits across the country, with that number representing a small fraction of the total number nationwide.
The kits contain evidence that can potentially contain DNA from potential perpetrators. It is collected from the victim through an invasive process that can take several hours.
The law approved by Cuomo and the state Legislature last year sets a firm timeline for testing kits after evidence has been collected.
Starting at the end of February, law-enforcement agencies across New York will be required to send rape kits to a lab within 10 days of collecting evidence.
From there, police agencies will have 90 days to test it and submit a list of potential perpetrators to a national database.
Some bigger police departments, such as in New York City, have their own labs for testing.
For other departments, much of the backlog of existing, untested kits will head to the State Police's labs. The main forensic lab is in Albany, with regional labs in Binghamton, Olean and at Stewart Airport near Newburgh.
In addition to the additional scientists, Beach said State Police will need more physical space at its lab to deal with the influx of kits.
He said he's working with Cuomo's budget division to try and figure out how to make that happen.
"We do have some space requirements and needs at our forensic investigations center," he said.