Reopening the crime lab will cost the state -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Reopening the crime lab will cost the state

By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  After being closed for three months because of the state's budget crunch, the Moultrie's Crime Lab could be collecting evidence again soon.

The building needs repairs and will require new equipment that was removed and sent elsewhere when the lab closed April first.

The lab also needs workers. Some of the former lab techs have already moved on to other jobs. The state however is focused on getting some service up and running sooner rather than later.  

The Colquitt County Sheriff's office evidence locker is full of evidence that must be sent to the crime lab. That's why the Sheriff has been leading the charge to reopen Moultrie's lab.

"We need these laboratories to be functional, especially with the crime rate, with the increase in crime and everything, we don't need to be cutting laboratories, if anything we need to be looking how we can add," said Sheriff Al Whittington.

While the legislature approved funding in April, it wasn't until last week that Governor Sonny Perdue conceded to the Lt. Governor, Speaker David Ralston, and south Georgia's pleas to put the funding toward the labs.

"I'm a great believer that justice delayed is justice denied and so I thought it was important to our delivery of justice here in Georgia that the labs be open for this part of the state," said   House Speaker David Ralston.

"The state has an obligation and the speaker felt like it and the Lt. Governor felt like they had an obligation not only to serve people in north Georgia but to serve the whole state," said Penny Houston, District 170 Rep.

The good news in this is as early as August first these doors could reopen for evidence receiving capabilities which will save law enforcement a lot of time and money.

"We'll no longer have a deputy sheriff transporting evidence a 125 more miles," said the sheriff.

The lab needs work and the state is letting a $400,000 bond to repair the air conditioning and the roof on the building, then there's the cost of equipping the building that was stripped of equipment in April. Many south Georgia Sheriff's say with thousands of cases, the lab never should have closed.

"The reopening of Moultrie and being able to keep Columbus open will benefit the entire state of Georgia because you figure where we lost three labs that represented about one third of the state," said Whittington.

It could be the end of the year before the lab is back to full operations, depending on how long it takes to find the needed staff.

State officials say not having the lab for just three months has created a backlog of evidence in Atlanta and could delay some court cases.

Sheriffs across southwest Georgia say having the ability to send evidence to Moultrie instead of sending it to other labs much farther away will save money it their budgets as well.

The Moultrie location was one of eight in the state before the cuts and was used by 27 counties.  The lab handled more than 2,200 cases in fiscal year 2009.  At the time it closed, the lab handled drug identification and toxicology. 

The staff included a drug chemist, two toxicologists, and three lab technicians.  The lab closed April first because of state budget cuts.

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