Smart Backlog Reduction Program | Spotlight

Quartet helping to resolve DNA backlog cases

Federally-funded program to utilize skills of CSULA criminalistics graduate students

Pictured: (l-r) Kari Mar, Alejandra Ramirez, Froseen Dahdouh, and Jennifer De La Cerda.

Working directly with local law enforcement agencies, four CSULA criminalistics M.S. students are playing important roles in reducing DNA forensic casework backlog in sexual assault cases.

The aspiring criminalists—Froseen Dahdouh, Jennifer De La Cerda, Kari Mar and Alejandra Ramirez—contribute their technical assistance 20 hours a week in the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center as part of the recently-established Smart Backlog Reduction Program. The team retrieves and organizes case files; updates information on the evidence-tracking systems; and prioritizes, documents and outsources the DNA evidence kits to private labs for analysis.

The Smart Backlog Reduction Program, in partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, is funded through a $1 million federal appropriation to the California Forensic Science Institute (CFSI) at Cal State L.A. The program aims to eliminate the backlog of untested kits in both the L.A. county and city crime labs. Ultimately, it may be a key step in bringing many of the perpetrators of unsolved cases to justice.

For background on the program:

“Advancing Justice” (Cal State L.A. TODAY, fall 2009 issue) /univ/ppa/publicat/today/archives/fall2009/dna.php

“Target, outsource, train: Keys to DNA backlog issue” (press release): /univ/ppa/newsrel/CFSI-fedprogram.htm

  • Headshot of Froseen Dahdouh

    Froseen Dahdouh (bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and chemistry, Cal State L.A.): “I am fortunate to be part of the CFSI Smart Backlog Reduction Program. I find it very important to assist the criminalists who work diligently to accomplish their endeavors. I enjoy the scientific and legal aspects of criminalistics and the idea of finding the truth about the case at hand. The faculty members here are pro-students and pro-research. Professor Longhetti encouraged me to pursue a career as a forensic scientist. Cal State L.A. has provided me with many opportunities; opportunities which I feel many students should be more aware of.”

  • Headshot of Jennifer De La Cerda

    Jennifer De La Cerda (bachelor’s degree in biology, UCLA): “I like the fact that I can provide technical support in a lab as well as public service to law enforcement agencies. As part of the CFSI program, I hope to help reduce the backlog for the criminalists, gain hands-on experience, develop rapport with working professionals, and obtain knowledge in the field. I chose Cal State L.A. to pursue my master’s degree in criminalistics because of its reputable program—and it’s also close to home.”

  • Headshot of Kari Mar

    Kari Mar (bachelor’s degrees in biology and German, University of Michigan): “I originally wanted to become a forensic pathologist, but during college, I decided that I didn’t necessarily want to go to medical school. Then, I was informed about the criminalistics program at Cal State L.A. through one of my friends and I shifted my career goal. The faculty and facility at Cal State L.A. are great, especially with access to the advanced technology and the opportunity to be involved with research and projects like the Smart Backlog Reduction Program.”

  • Headshot of Alejandra Ramirez

    Alejandra Ramirez (bachelor’s degree in biology; master’s degree in criminalistics, Cal State L.A.): “I knew I was interested in criminalistics since high school, when I read how some of the principles of biology were being applied in criminal investigations. While helping criminalists in tackling the backlog cases, we are able to work alongside law enforcement agencies and be exposed to the importance of DNA evidence in solving crimes. The best part of Cal State L.A. was being involved with research. Usually as an undergraduate at other large universities you don’t get that experience, but at Cal State L.A. there are opportunities to prepare students to work in a research lab.” (Spotlight note: In 2008, Ramirez received the $25,000 J. Edgar Hoover Foundation Scientific Scholarship Award. Details are in this release: /univ/ppa/newsrel/hooveraward-ar.htm.)

Here are links to reference: