ATLANTA (WTVM) – News Leader 9 spent the day talking to agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The state-level agency hosted a Media Day at its headquarters in Atlanta, detailing how it handles thousands of investigations on a yearly basis.
Some of the responsibilities the bureau takes on include handling crime scenes, testing DNA samples in its crime lab, and investigating officer-involved shootings.
Agent Nelly Miles, the agency's public affairs director, said the GBI makes these resources available when they're called upon by local law enforcement agencies across the Peach State for help.
"The GBI has really set the bar in terms of technology," Miles said. "From our investigative division to our crime information center, to the crime lab - we utilize state-of-the-art technology," she said, "and coupled with that, we have highly-trained and skilled professionals."
Top officials and field agents demonstrated a few of the bureau's areas of specialization; for example, its crime scene units.
Investigators, like Special Agent Joshua Ellis, showed how the bureau uses state-of-the-art laser scanners, worth nearly $100,000, to recreate complex crime scenes. The agency currently uses 10 laser scanners, located in several field offices, including one in Columbus.
Ellis said the agency makes these 3-D images available to juries, judges, police and sheriff's departments all over west central Georgia.
"A lot of agencies, they have to be jacks of all trades," Ellis said. "They have to do the investigation, they have to do the crime scenes, they have to do whatever paperwork. As a special agent here, I can focus solely on this aspect, at the crime scene."
GBI's Bomb Disposal Unit also demonstrated how it uses the latest model robots to safely disarm any situation. The bureau currently employs 26 certified bomb disposal technicians, spread out into nine units operating out of a mobile truck unit with equipment worth $1 million per truck.
During a presentation, GBI Director Vernon Keenan discussed what he called several growing concerns the agency has witnessed over 2017.
Keenan said that although the GBI does handle many violent crime cases yearly, the agency's has recently had to shift some of its resources, away from deadly drug deaths and abuse cases, in order to fully investigate violent crime across Georgia.
GBI's data from 2016 shows 52 percent of drug-related deaths came from prescription drugs like alprazolam, oxycodone, and fentanyl.
Another concern Keenan said was not exclusive to the GBI - recruiting the right amount of employees to fully staff their crime lab, the only one in Georgia.
"If you're going to have a strategy to reduce violent crime, then you've got to factor in the crime laboratory," Keenan said, "because if we have backlogs, which there are in the firearms sections, then violent crimes investigations are going to be stymied."
Despite these concerns, Keenan also touted some of the agency's recent accomplishments, including opening a brand-new, $6.7 million medical examiner annex, since the GBI handles autopsies for 153 of Georgia's 159 counties.
Moving forward, Keenan said, the bureau hopes to push the technological boundary even further, and the agency is counting on state and federal funding to help bring in enough skilled employees.
"One of the things we've asked for," Keenan said, "is the staffing for the cyber-crime laboratory in the cyber center, the cyber-security and innovation center in Augusta. GBI hopes to have an operational unit there."
Keenan also said the GBI is in constant contact with both state and federal lawmakers.
Top officials will make their requests known again in the 2018 legislative session, reminding policymakers of the role the agency plays in serving the public.