Economy forces area crime lab to close

By Laura Ann Sills - email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The economy is taking a toll on almost everything. And, now its reaching crime fighting efforts.

The GBI crime lab here in Columbus will close down at the end of March due to a lack of money.

John Bankhead, GBI Public Affairs Director, says, "from an economic stand point and spending state tax payers money, the best approach as we see it is to shut down these labs and hire more scientists."

Local law enforcement disagree, calling the plan atrocious.

"I can't work a tool marking case, I can't work a DNA case, I can't work a fire arson case, it tales a crime lab analysis and I don't have the expertise," says Harris County Sheriff Mike Jolley.

Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr agrees, "In my opinion the closing of the lab is just their not concerned this is not a high priority for them, they could make other cuts and keep this open."

Both those for and against the closing agree it will cause the courts to become even slower.

State Representative Debbie Buckner opposes the closing, "there is a potential huge backlog in courts.  It's like throwing a huge cog in the wheel of the justice system, by not having the info they need in a timely manner."

On the other side: "there will be an increase in the back log. Scientists have to travel to testify, and those type of impacts, but with the budget crisis, cuts have to be made," says Bankhead.

There are already efforts to stop the closing.  Rep Buckner has already had meetings to find alternatives. And, Sheriff Jolley is meeting with the Georgia Sheriff's Association executive board on Wednesday to brainstorm.

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