Durham considering its own crime lab

January 11, 2013 10:43:08 AM PST
City of Durham and Durham County leaders said Friday that lengthy delays getting results from the State Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab is an expensive problem they'd like to fix.

A backlog at the SBI lab has meant test results on evidence can be delayed by six to eight months. That turns into a huge expense for the local government as trials are pushed back and jail costs for housing defendants rack up.

It's just the latest criticism of the lab which has been under fire since 2010, when a report by independent investigators found that SBI agents helped prosecutors obtain convictions over a 16-year period by misrepresenting blood evidence and keeping critical notes from defense lawyers.

Since then, there have been major reforms. Attorney General Roy Cooper named a new director to oversee the lab in 2011.

But delays getting results from the lab continue, and now city and county leaders on the Durham Crime Cabinet are considering a proposal to create Durham's very own crime analysis lab.

Officials looked at five options Friday, including spending $186,000 a year for the salaries of three SBI crime analysts (chemists) that would focus solely on Durham County.

There's already a certified ballistics analysts in the Durham Police Department, helping to move cases along. Durham officials say some ballistics analysis from the SBI can take several months.

The Crime Cabinet (comprised of city and county leaders) has agreed to send the proposal to the Durham County Board of Commissioners and Durham City Council for further consideration. The Cabinet wants to also explore whether the Duke University Medical Center would become a partner in the project.

Ultimately, the county board and city council would have to give final approval and funding.

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