Subsidizing state lab unfortunate need

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 02:58 PM

Durham City Council member Eugene Brown is exactly right in the reservations he expressed last week over the Durham Crime Cabinet’s call for allocating local dollars to speed up state crime lab work for the city.

Sending local tax dollars to the State Bureau of Investigation to pay for lab technicians focusing specifically on Durham cases amounts to a bailout of the state, he noted.

“The leadership at the state level is not there,” he said, “putting the burden back on cities and counties.”

True enough. The state’s refusal to adequately fund the crime lab has been a shameful and irresponsible lapse for years. It has drastically slowed and more than occasionally derailed the criminal judicial process.

That said, the crime cabinet’s recommendation is a sound one.

For years, local officials have pondered establishing a local or perhaps regional crime lab to focus on cases in our area, bypassing the sclerotic state lab. That’s an expensive proposition that has yet to find sufficient traction and would truly be a bailout of the delinquent state.

The proposal to pay the state lab $180,051 a year to hire three additional chemists to test evidence for city and county law enforcement is an easily and quickly executable plan to address the problem.

It is, said intern Emily Leik, who had prepared a report for the crime cabinet, ”the least expensive of all the viable options.”

Based on discussion at the crime cabinet, acting District Attorney Leon Stainback deserves considerable credit for making the local subsidy idea a realistic possibility.

“When we initially started this conversation, the SBI said no,” Deputy County Manager Lee Worsley said. “The district attorney got involved and … the no changed to yes.”

It’s now up to the City Council or County Commissioners – or both – to provide the necessary funding.

We wish this were not necessary, that the state would adequately address the SBI’s responsibility to local law enforcement and judicial officials across the state.

That has not happened, and is not likely to any time soon.

We urge the council and commissioners to back the crime cabinet’s sensible recommendation for local funding to bridge the gap.