State News

NC crime lab officials say money needed for upgrades

Posted October 22, 2013

— People keeping close tabs on how North Carolina's State Crime Laboratory is operating after a stinging audit three years ago that found fault in blood-testing analysis say the lab has made great strides rebuilding confidence.

But lab director Joe John says limited resources have hindered efforts.

He told an advisory board of forensic experts Tuesday that, while the legislature approved funding to plan a new laboratory in western North Carolina that officials say is desperately needed, no money has been earmarked to pay for the nearly $17 million lab.

Lawmakers also approved money for 19 new toxicologists but no new DNA analysts, he said, adding that the low salaries the lab can offer has limited who they can hire.

Eighteen toxicologists have left the crime lab in the past year, with half citing low pay as their reason for leaving, John said.

"Help is on the way – the cavalry is coming – but that won't help for a significant period of time," he said. "We're going to still have to deal with the challenges for at least a year and probably longer."

Each year, the State Crime Laboratory receives evidence to be tested from approximately 35,000 cases from the state's 600 law enforcement agencies.

About 7,000 cases are waiting for toxicology testing at the lab, John said. He declined to call it a backlog, saying simply that it's where they are at this point given the staff they have.

John said a new lab would help process the cases. He plans to ask for funding for the project in the next session of the General Assembly.

The crime laboratory audit three years ago followed the release of Greg Taylor – who spent 17 years behind bars for a Raleigh murder that he didn't commit – and called for the thorough examination of 190 criminal cases with blood-testing issues. The audit covered cases from 1987 to 2003.

Advisory board chairman Peter Marone says the lab has received international accreditation and eligible scientists there have achieved independent certification.

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  • miseem Oct 23, 2013

    Throw money at it, that's the democrats answer to every problem they face.
    wayneboyd.

    Right. Let's do some basic math. work for the state at $30,000 per year or work at a private organization for $60,000. Paying a fair market salary does not constitute "throwing" money at a problem. And for all you folks suggesting privatizing, do you really think that the costs per test will go down or the quality of the work will go up with privatization? Especially with the recent penchant for contracts being awarded based on donations to the GOP instead of merit?

  • xylem01 Oct 23, 2013

    The lab needs to prepare itself for the oncoming drug testing for welfare program.

  • wayneboyd Oct 22, 2013

    Throw money at it, that's the democrats answer to every problem they face.

  • chickfromtherock Oct 22, 2013

    We're missing the point here. 18 people have left a state-supported "training" facility and moved to private sector jobs citing stagnant wages. It's no longer glamorous to say you work for the state when the money sucks (their kids need shoes too), the raises are non-existent, and respect for state workers is virtually nil. They decided to suck it up for a certain no. of years so they can get state of the art training and leave and get some REAL money. Puts me in mind of people working in govt,retiring and becoming lobbyists/consultants. Avg sal in NC for a toxicologist 62-68K. I can't find a job posting on the NC website showing the job or the salary range but I bet it's nowhere near that amount. Everyone is NOT trapped in a job and they are proving it by giving notice. Can we all say "brain drain"? They may still be holding on to some of Duane's friends in high positions while any raises they ever thought they would get went to pay the victims of Duane's willful ignorance.

  • westernwake1 Oct 22, 2013

    I think they need to look at outsourcing all the tests to 3rd party private labs. Obviously they can not hold on to employees (due to low pay) that know how to use equipment - even if they purchased new updated equipment and placed it in new/upgraded facilities.

  • whatelseisnew Oct 22, 2013

    Would be plenty of money available if we drop all the handout programs.

  • Radioactive Ted Oct 22, 2013

    I wonder why "you get what you pay for" only applies to CEOs and the governor's aides.

  • Pirate01 Oct 22, 2013

    This is the same agency, under the direction of Roy Cooper, that was proven to have promoted lies to get convictions in HUNDREDS of cases. Including 3 people that were executed.

  • itlsss Oct 22, 2013

    It would help if the AG asked for more money. He is happy with all the mistakes the SBI lab makes to hear him tell it.

  • A person Oct 22, 2013

    We were thinking it is time to cut their budget.

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