CARTHAGE — An opening ceremony will be planned for later, but evidence already is being processed at the new regional crime lab south of Carthage.
The new site replaces a lab at Missouri Southern State University that was closed more than a year ago.
The operation opened earlier this month in a newly constructed building just south of the Missouri State Highway Patrol substation on Highway 71, south of Carthage.
"It's a beautiful building," said Bill Marbaker, director of the state patrol's Crime Laboratory Division in Jefferson City. "It will expand our capacity, give our examiners a more efficient facility."
The lab processes drug chemistry and latent fingerprint evidence for local law enforcement agencies. A toxicology section will be added in about a year.
For workers at the lab, and to some extent for law enforcement officers, the new operation means an end to trips back and forth to more distant state labs.
Analysts stationed locally previously had been commuting to work at the state patrol's crime lab in Springfield. Workers with area sheriffs' departments and police departments also had been driving some evidence there and to other labs, though most times they were able to use a drop-off site at the Missouri Southern campus .
"Having the local lab back open means we can get evidence to them more quickly, and get it back more quickly," said Capt. Derek Walrodof the Jasper County Sheriff's Department. "There's still a few things they can't do, but we're extremely happy with it."
The toxicology section will be added later, but testing for DNA, trace evidence and firearms will remain in Springfield.
The lab has two full-time analysts for drug chemistry, two for fingerprints and an evidence technician, Marbaker said.
"Hopefully, in the next year or so we'll start a toxicology section, but we'll have to hire those positions, and we'll probably have to wait for the next budget cycle to buy the equipment," he said.
For the year the new lab was under construction, most of the local analysts who had worked at Missouri Southern drove back and forth to Springfield, so at least 20 percent of the workday was being spent on the road. When any of the analysts needed to testify in a local court case, they had to commute from Springfield.
"It wasn't the ideal situation," Marbaker said. "Now we're saving all that overhead and man hours. And the building itself is new, and a lot more efficient, so analysts can be even more productive as workloads increase. Since it's part of the state system, all those assets are available, but as the region grows, we expect the workloads will, and the capacity will be there to handle it."
Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland and Lane Roberts, Joplin police chief, both noted that the local lab will cut down on travel time for law enforcement.
"We haven't had to use it since it opened, but it will be a great benefit," Copeland said.
Sending local evidence to the lab in Springfield increased a workload that can now be divided up more equitably, Roberts said.
"It meant that one lab was having to accommodate a bigger workload," he said. "I'm sure it created a bit of a backlog, but we didn't have any complaints about turnaround time."
The new building has about 5,100 square feet devoted to the crime lab, and about 800 square feet of office space for officers with the state patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control. The lab also has a conference room with a video-conference system that can be used for training and other purposes.