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Police Wish SBI Lab Could Handle Drugs Faster

Posted February 12, 2007
Updated February 13, 2007

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— The State Bureau of Investigation lab, the clearing house for evidence in crimes committed across the state, is trying to blunt criticism about processing delays in drug cases.

It’s a sensitive topic because the state and local law enforcement must work together on cases. Officials in the field seem to feel the delays are too long. The lab’s director said things are getting better.

Recently, the SBI lab revamped its DNA testing in a bid to help police clear cold cases from years when DNA analysis was not available.

Now, the SBI is working to dig out from under a bigger backlog—drug cases that can stack up for months. Law enforcement feels the weight of the backlog because felony drug cases go nowhere until the drugs are verified at the SBI lab.

In 2006, that meant nearly 30,000 cases.

One place that feels the pressure is the Cumberland County Detention Center.

“The felony cases are the real hold-up in the jails,” Cumberland County Sheriff Earl “Moose” Butler said Monday. Delays in the court system and evidence processing are pushing the 4-year-old Cumberland County jail close to capacity with inmates in stalled cases.

Many district attorneys echo the concern through their professional group.

“There is a myriad of cases that require lab work to be done that are getting older and older—one and two years older,” said Peg Dorer, director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

Law enforcement officials sound worried, but not angry.

“It has been a problem,” Butler said, “but certainly I understand their problem.”

“To me,” said SBI Director Robin P. Pendergraft, “the perception can be quite stale” and complaints about backlogs are outdated.

Retirements and an extra focus on DNA two years ago delayed drug chemistry, Pendergraft agreed, but she also said the lab is slowly catching up with work that included more than four thousand rush orders last year alone.

She is not satisfied, but she disagrees with the perception of a big delay.

Today, drugs like cocaine, meth, and heroine average about seven months for processing. The SBI goal is one month.

“We're not there in every discipline. So, am I satisfied? No,” Pendergraft said. She adds, however, “We have made considerable progress.” She also said shen hopes that new analysts and an expanded lab should help more.

To help trim the backlog, the SBI director said, she has urged prosecutors to try to dispose of smaller drug cases without testing. However, she flatly denied accusations that she ever recommended law enforcement not arrest certain suspects.

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  • Matthew 19_21 Feb 13, 2007

    legalize it. alcohol and tobacco are legal and LETHAL, yet we tolerate and even encourage the use of those two favored drugs. why don't we do the same with other drugs, and concentrate on violent criminals? I'd rather have limited law enforcement resources being used for real crimes with real victims.

  • anonemoose Feb 13, 2007

    Actually, I do have a solution, (besides being sarcastic about the believe ability of TV shows and the intelligence level of the viewers..)

    Allow field testing to be admissable, and make the defense request lab analysis if they want it. Then they can be responsible for thier client waiting in jail....They can tell their client they can go ahead and plead and get started, or wait 6 months, then get started, or get probabtion. Many cases are pleaded out before it gets back anyway, so if it's not sent in the first place, then less of a back log.

  • harinootsak Feb 13, 2007

    I'm sure they could outsource some of the testing to 3rd party... a "lab" and an Erlenmeyer flask, quite sure one could collect stringent empirical data on D9-THC levels with quick turn-around time

  • anonemoose Feb 13, 2007

    Can you imagaine what the backlog would be if everytime a piece of evidence was tested that the lab rats would jump up and run out into the field, then drag the suspect in and question them??? It's amazing that they can solve crimes that quickly without doing interviews witness interviews, and all the other interviews. Maybe they just totally need to do away with the "decectives" and replace them with CSIs.

  • My3centsworth Feb 13, 2007

    apparently Bammer is not acquainted with what is involved in drug testing; I can not do it other than the inadmissible field test, but do know that for a lab employee to testify under oath as the the absolute certainty of a substance being a specific type of controlled substance takes considerable time and effort. For example, if my memory is correct even a drug as common as marijuana takes three (3) separate tests before an analyst can testify that it is indeed marijuana and contains delta 9 tetrahydracannabinol.Those tv crime scene programs are for entertainment purposes only and should not be confused with real life as they are not even vaguely similar.

  • bammer66 Feb 13, 2007

    how long have they been testing drugs? seems that they should be able to test drugs for identity as fast as they do on CSI tv show. seems alot of wasted time and money goes into this process. maybe send the drugs to the same place that drug test for employment are sent