Law enforcement backs NC attorney general on SBI - WNCT

Law enforcement backs NC attorney general on SBI

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State Crime Lab analyst works on samples for upcoming court case. (Steve Sbraccia, WNCN) State Crime Lab analyst works on samples for upcoming court case. (Steve Sbraccia, WNCN)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

The Senate budget calls for splitting up the SBI and leaving the its Crime Lab and a small public integrity section under control of the attorney general.

Law enforcement officials gathered in downtown Raleigh Monday to oppose putting the SBI under the governor's office. A coalition of prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs said doing that would hinder political corruption investigations.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and others say lawmakers should instead put more money into the SBI Crime Lab, which is so backlogged it is hurting court cases.

Blood and lab work for drunk driving cases, DNA analysis, murder trials and drug arrests all go through the Crime Lab, which is so overwhelmed it's hurting court cases..

"On a routine DWI case, when we're looking to get blood results back, it's taking 12 to 15 months to get that back," complained District Attorney Jim O'Neill (R-Forsyth County).

The director of the state Crime Lab says because its case is so overburdening, everyone in the lab right now is working mandatory overtime just to try and clear as many cases as possible.

But, that's not enough to keep up with the ever-increasing workload.

"Cases are being postponed and are taking longer than they should," said lab director Joseph John. "That's nothing we're particularly proud of."

The governor's budget funded nearly $4 million for additional DNA positions and equipment, and almost $2 million for toxicology positions and lab gear.

However, the Senate budget only provides half that amount for toxicology and nothing for new DNA staff or equipment.

"What we ought to do is look at the lab and fully fund it with adequate salaries and adequate resources," said district attorney Colon Willoughby (D-Wake County).

He's referring to the fact that the Crime Lab is losing people to private industry labs because they are paying bigger salaries.

"They have hired, in the last several months, at least four of our analysts, and they're paying them reportedly $20,000 a year more," John said.

The average SBI lab salary is between $40,000 and $43,000 a year.

Senate republicans say they decided on the appropriation amounts for the SBI Crime Lab and other agencies because they are doing the best they can with the resources available to them.

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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