Law enforcement excited about new WNC crime lab
The recently signed state budget bill will fund the hiring of 19 toxicology analysts for a new western crime lab, expanding available evidence testing in Western North Carolina.
The plan has excited law enforcement agents who will benefit from it.
“That will be awesome,” said Sgt. Tony Cope with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.
Currently, the state runs a crime lab in Asheville but it doesn’t conduct the full suite of testing like the lab in the Triad or the one in the Triangle. Law enforcement must send much of its evidence to the main lab in Raleigh for testing and wait months for it to return, but the 19 new analysts as well as the construction of a new lab is expected to expedite the turnaround time for evidence testing.
“Hopefully, if everything falls into place like it looks like it is, it will definitely make our job more efficient,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Haynes of the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.
The new hires will work out of the lab in Asheville until a new crime lab building is constructed. The budget set aside $1.4 million to create a plan for the new lab, which will be located in Edneyville next to the Western Justice Academy. The total estimated cost is $16.8 million.
With the new lab, evidence from law enforcement in Western North Carolina won’t have nearly as far to travel before it’s tested.
Law enforcement can’t always package evidence into a box, stamp it and ship it certified mail down east like a sweater sold on eBay. The evidence has to go through a chain of command or is so crucial that officers don’t want to risk the mail system. The only other way to get the evidence down to the state crime lab is to drive it more than four hours to Raleigh.
But once the new lab is in place, officers will only have an hour drive to the lab and won’t have to waste the day in transit.
“It’s one thing to drive to Hendersonville. It is a completely other to drive all the way to Raleigh,” said Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed, who advocated in Raleigh for the new lab. “That is just not a real productive way to operate.”
The change also means that experts are just a quick trip away. In some cases, particularly DWIs, the toxicologist have had to travel from Raleigh to Western North Carolina to spend the day in court. It takes analysts away from the lab and further delays the processing of evidence in other cases.
On average in North Carolina, it takes up to a year to process blood or urine samples in DWI cases. To have a computer analyzed, investigators wait 12 to 18 months.
“A lot of times when something goes to trial, it depends on that evidence,” Cope said.
Meanwhile, depending on the crime, an alleged perpetrator may spend months in jail before the trial. While it is not necessarily because of an evidence hold up, swift results can help move the judicial process along.
In the end, paying for 19 new toxicology analysts could save the state money, Det. Bruce Warren of the Haywood County sheriff’s office said, if that means spending less on housing alleged criminals.
“They would be a whole lot better off,” Warren said.