By CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois State Police announced Wednesday that they have cut their backlog of DNA tests nearly in half since March of last year.

The State Police Division of Forensic Services reduced their backlog of DNA samples from 9,289 in March 2019 to 4,857 as of Monday, Nov. 30.

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“Since the beginning of my administration, we have prioritized implementing policies and procedures that will allow the dedicated forensics team at ISP’s Division of Forensic Services to reduce the state’s DNA backlog. Thanks to the leadership of the Forensic Science Task Force, which my administration established in 2019, additional recommendations to help further decrease the backlog are now underway,” Gov. Pritzker said in a news release. “I am encouraged by the 48% reduction in forensic cases and will continue to support ISP’s work to bring brings victims and their loved ones a step closer to justice.”

“For more than a decade, trends in forensic labs across the country, including in Illinois, have been headed the wrong direction, but because of the hard work and discipline of the Illinois State Police we are finally headed in the right direction in Illinois,” ISP Director Brendan F. Kelly said in the release. “Our progress is real and significant, but no one in the Illinois State Police will be satisfied until all victims can trust that the cause of justice will be advanced and not delayed by forensics.”

State police said the reduction in the backlog happened despite the fact that six ISP forensic scientists had to be reassigned to the Illinois Department of Public Health to help with COVID-19 testing.

State police said forensics outcomes have improved by many different measures.

In May 2019, the average outstanding Illinois State Police DNA test was 247 days old. As of November of this year, it was down to 110 days old.

The number of DNA tests that were more than a year old dropped from 1,329 in January 2020 to just 186 in November. The number of pending sexual assault DNA assignments that are more than six months old went from 1,059 in January to 280 in November.

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State police said the outcomes were achieved through a multi-prong strategy involving technology to help reduce backlogs and test turnaround times. This includes robotics and Rapid DNA. The ISP Department of Forensic Services has also implemented a Lean Six-Sigma program to streamline the workflow process.

The ISP also hired more forensic scientists, and set up a program to improve communication between investigating agencies, prosecutors, offices, and labs.

In March 2019, the DNA testing backlog was so extensive that lawmakers demanded that the state take action. That call for action followed a CBS 2 report from investigative reporter Pam Zekman that revealed 50 unsolved strangulation cases that could be the work of a serial killer.

Going back to 2001, women were beaten, raped, and strangled; and had their bodies dumped in alleys, vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and garbage containers. Some were set on fire.

Thomas Hargrove of the Murder Accountability Project said last year that similarities in many of the cases point to a possible serial killer. In all the disturbing crimes he said could be connected, the victims were strangled and their bodies were dumped outdoors.

He said the DNA test backlog was likely in part to blame for the fact that the cases had gone unsolved.

“I think it’s a problem that there is a backlog of thousands of DNA test kits, rape kits–whatever the samples are, they should be processed and prosecuted,” Hargrove said last year.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff