SPRINGFIELD — Southwest Missouri will get the state’s second major crime lab as planned, after Gov. Matt Blunt announced Monday that his administration will spend $400,000 to cover a funding gap.
Blunt and Missouri State Highway Patrol officials said the $5.9 million lab, due to open in October 2008, will benefit the entire state by reducing the time it takes to analyze evidence for investigations and trials. The wait now can be as long as 10 months from the state’s one full-service crime lab in Jefferson City.
“We’d like to get down to the industry standard of 90 to 120 days. We think we can get there over a period of a few years once this new lab is open,” said Capt. Steve Hinesly, director of the patrol’s crime lab division.
Missouri’s central crime lab in Jefferson City is assisted by six field labs around the state, but those can run only a limited range of tests. Springfield will be the second full-service lab that can check everything.
“This is long overdue. The main lab takes care of nearly all evidence that requires analysis,” said Maj. Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department. “This has been needed for years. They need more technicians, space and training.”
Columbia Police Department Capt. Brad Nelson said he was especially hopeful about speedier DNA analysis.
“I hope that DNA-type evidence would be expedited, since that is used a lot these days,” Nelson said.
City, county and state leaders had scrambled to put together a financing package for the lab after Greene County voters in November 2005 shot down a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase for a number of law enforcement projects.
The project is now backed by a mix of state and federal funds and a city bond issue, but the legislature failed to pass a funding bill in the last session that included $1.6 million for renovating the empty downtown warehouse that will house the lab.
That raised the prospect of a delay that could have increased construction costs and possibly endangered some other funding, officials said at the time.
Blunt said the state Office of Administration will pay $400,000 this year from its leasing budget to allow the project to go ahead. He said he plans to seek the remaining $1.2 million during the next legislative session.
It makes sense to put the new crime lab in a fast growing corner of the state, area legislators said in a joint news conference with Blunt outside the empty three-story warehouse that will house the new facility.
“The crime lab in Jefferson City is working overtime, and the backlog of cases demands more resources so that justice is not delayed,” said Rep. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.
The Jefferson City lab, which has been operating since the 1930s, has about 45 to 50 employees, Hinesly said. The Springfield lab will have 27 workers, he said.
Michael Stonacek contributed to this report.