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Governor asks for crime lab funding

By Ed Brock

More money is needed, but Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan to fund more positions with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's crime lab will be appreciated by law enforcement around the state.

Perdue has called for $3 million to be added to the fiscal year 2005 budget that would allow the GBI to outsource some of the lab's work, said Shane Hix, spokesman for the governor's office. Another $1.4 million could be added in the FY2006 budget that begins in July to hire 12 more scientists and eight lab technicians.

"This is one of the governor's priorities under his Safe Georgia (Initiative)," Hix said.

The state crime lab is responsible for a range of forensic tests, including autopsies, blood alcohol content tests for DUI cases, DNA testing and illegal substance analysis. Law enforcement agencies from around the state, including the Clayton County Police Department and municipal departments in the county, use the lab and have suffered from the backlog of more than 32,600 cases.

"The new positions proposed by Gov. Perdue will not significantly impact the backlog," said Dan Kirk, the GBI's deputy director of the Division of Forensic Sciences. "However, the positions are much needed and will allow the crime lab to work incoming cases once the new employees are trained and up to speed. The outsourcing money, if approved, will be used for the DNA database (the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS) and will help reduce some of the backlog in that area."

During FY2004, the lab received 104,000 new requests for service and performed 88,000 tests. Clayton County's police department sends about 1,200 articles a year to the lab, and the turnaround can be up to six months, said Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner.

That can be problematic if a suspect has not been arrested in a crime.

"You have to keep up with that suspect until you get the results to make an arrest," Turner said.

Some municipal departments in the county, such as Morrow and Forest Park, also send some evidence to the lab. The biggest impact the backlog has had on Forest Park is in DUI cases, said Capt. Chris Matson with that department.

Morrow takes care of most of its evidence collection in basic cases, Chief Charlie Sewell said, and they don't have many major crimes that would require them to send evidence to the GBI.

"For the most part, we aren't affected by (the backlog)," Sewell said.

The Clayton County Sheriff's Office is also mostly unaffected by the backlog now that the county has moved the Crime Scene Investigation Unit from the office, Sheriff Victor Hill said. But in general, Hill is happy to hear about the plans for more lab personnel. When he was a detective for the county he had seen waits of eight months to a year in some cases.

"It's definitely a priority. I plan to lobby for it," Hill said. "In order for us to be effective fighting crime, we have to have a faster turn-around."