Wheels of Justice Turning Too Slowly
S outhern Pines Police Chief John Letteney still remembers a case several years ago, when officers investigating an auto break-in found a drop of blood on a shattered window.
The good news is that they were able to send the sample in to the SBI lab in Raleigh and obtain a DNA identification that eventually led to an arrest and the solving of a great many similar crimes.
The bad news has to do with that word "eventually." It was "well into the next calendar year," the chief says, before those lab results at long last arrived. In such cases, one can only wonder how many crimes might have been prevented if investigators hadn't had to twiddle their thumbs while the creaking wheels of justice took so painfully long to turn.
"The average time on a property crime can be months or longer," Letteney says. "The SBI is working on it, trying to get funding for additional labs and personnel."
Lots of luck getting more state funding right now for any cause, no matter how deserving. Meanwhile, about all our local department can do in cases of more serious crimes is to ask the district attorney's office to put in a rush request and hope for the best.
Taking Matters in Hand
This problem is as bad or worse in other parts of the state. The Asheville Citizen-Times recently reported that delays in obtaining lab results in prosecution of DWI cases in the western part of the state have become so burdensome that offenders are often back behind the wheel before they can be tried. And the court appearance of a murder suspect in Durham has been postponed 18 times for lack of results from a hair analysis.
Some local jurisdictions, tired of waiting, are taking matters into their own hands. Police Chief Ken Miller of Greensboro, calling the delays "unacceptable," has been seeking to organize something called the N.C. DNA Consortium.
Representatives of a number of law enforcement agencies were meeting Tuesday in Raleigh to explore possibilities for joint effort. Most of the departments are in towns along Interstate 85, but our neighbor Cumberland County was also included.
The Costs of Cost-Cutting
What could emerge from all this is a partnership that would contract with a private laboratory to take over the processing of DNA evidence from the scenes of serious crimes. As the program proceeded, it could build up a data bank of evidence that would be far greater than the sum of its parts. So far, no Moore County departments are taking part.
It is regrettable that frustrated police agencies would have to resort to at least a partial privatization of evidence analysis to get their jobs done. But there's a lot to be said for a regional approach. This would just be an expansion of joint programs that have long been in place for cooperation on fingerprint analysis.
Earlier this year, law enforcement groups appealed to the General Assembly for an increase in funding for state crime labs, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. This is just one more example of the real-world results of the current legislative leadership's stubborn determination to cut costs at any cost.
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