Time's ticking to GBI crime lab closures - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Time's ticking to GBI crime lab closures

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  Time's nearly up for three state crime labs.

The labs in Moultrie, Columbus, and Summerville will close in 14 days, although Columbus could be spared. Local law enforcement agencies have been given new locations to send their evidence. Tonight many are concerned about the backlog the closures will cause and what it will mean for how they protect the communities they serve.

Sheriff's across southwest Georgia say closing the crime labs won't just affect how they process evidence, it's going to affect how they run court, their budgets, and how many officers they can have on the streets to fight crime.

Right now it takes the Sumter County Sheriff's offices weeks to get evidence back from the state's crime labs, because of the heavy caseload. In two weeks when three labs close they fear it will be worse.

"The majority of the Sheriff's in southwest Georgia's concern is the back log that this is going to create," said Sumter County Sheriff Pete Smith.

Sheriff Pete Smith worries court cases will back up, forcing the county to hold inmates longer, further stretching an already thin budget. Transporting evidence further also means fewer officers in Lee County.

"It puts and officer or two officers out of pocket depending on what it is to get that evidence to the crime lab," said Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals.

Two dozen southwest Georgia Sheriff's met this week in Valdosta to determine the feasibility of using the combined Valdosta/Lowndes County crime lab instead of state labs in Macon or Atlanta. Many are looking at the combined lab's cost.

"Depending on how many cases we already send to the labs, that's what, they could base it on that or per test and cost you that way," said Rachals.

As Sheriff's weigh their options, they don't want the state's to keep labs open at the cost of cutting a proposed 30 GBI agents.

"We certainly can't afford to lose any of them," said Smith. Sheriff's say, their case loads aren't decreasing. "Crime is not going to go away, we have to stay on top of it as much as we can and as fast as we can to try and curtail it," said Smith.

Curtail it to keep the communities they serve, safe.

Sheriff Pete Smith plans to make a trip to Atlanta Thursday to meet with Lt. Governor Casey Cagle about the labs. Right now, the state has 5,500 state inmates in county jails, who just haven't been picked up and moved to state facilities because of budget issues.

Columbus has agreed to pay more than $66,000 to keep its crime lab open through June. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle has promised to try to get more state for the labs next fiscal year. It would take more than $110,000 to keep the Moultrie lab open until July first.


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