State crime lab can't keep analysts

Posted December 12, 2013

— State Crime Lab director Joseph John told a legislative oversight committee Thursday that the lab is making progress on its backlog of cases. But he says the problem won't be resolved until staffing levels improve – and that will require higher salaries for scientists. 

Speaking before the Justice and Public Safety Oversight Committee, John said 54 of the lab's 124 analysts have left since January 2010. Most, he said, left for higher-paying jobs at other labs. 

A salary survey of crime labs in Southeastern states showed North Carolina's pay to be “below the board on any and every scale of measurement," he said.

The state pays entry-level crime lab analysts only about $42,000 a year. After a couple of years, once they've been trained and certified, they can easily earn $20,000 a year more at labs in Virginia, Charlotte, or even at the Wake County crime lab next door to the state lab, he said.  

“We’re a training ground for Virginia and Charlotte-Mecklenburg and our friends here in Wake County," John said. “This is a serious issue. This revolving door is going to continue.”

The turnover costs the state in two ways, John said. First, vacancies in the lab lead to more backlog.

“Our folks work mandatory overtime on a regular basis to try to meet the challenges of the numbers and the attrition, but so few can only do so much,” he said.

The second effect is fiscal. He said the state's two-year investment in a crime lab analyst – from hiring to training and development, including pay – has been estimated at $114,625. That money "basically walks out the door when a scientist leaves the lab."

He estimated the overall cost of scientist turnover at the lab as around $2.3 million since January 2010. 

Chairwoman Rep. Pat Hurley, R-Randolph, was incredulous.

"Do they know what benefits they have?" she asked John. "Do they realize that those count a lot of money also? When they leave, are they given that information?"

John replied that other government labs offer similar benefits and that scientists are fully informed about them when they're hired.

"Job applicants are pretty sophisticated," he said. 


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  • toddhuml Dec 18, 2013

    Poor Judge John is truly mistaken if he feels the only reason employees have left is the pay.
    What about the management that is in place under him?
    Why work for Supervisors in Charge that are clueless?

  • Lady Justice Dec 17, 2013

    "State government is becoming a dumping ground for the unemployable or people needing experience to get a real job. This will continue until the taxpayers realize you get what you pay for - substandard pay gets you substandard employees."

    This ^^^ And Ms. Hurley, you are REALLY out of touch with your government workers. That was embarrassing.

  • Bigbadwolf Dec 16, 2013

    This problem is not new. Its been around for several years now but the person in charge of the SBI.... Attorney General Roy Cooper.....has "other" priorities on his mind. I have been a LEO for 25 years and I can tell you the SBI lab is the worst it has ever been and there does not appear to be any releif in sight.

  • toffton Dec 16, 2013

    The benefits are not that good. The insurance isn't better than most private employers (out of pocket expenses and deductibles and the cost from your pay check each month probably make it worse). The retirement system isn't amazing. 6% of your salary is required each month and there is no guarantee in the future that the "matching" money will even be there. Dental, Vision, Life insurance, etc are all NCFlex programs that we pay for. Many companies pay for these as part of their retirement systems. The best benefit is the vacation leave and special leave (in lieu of a pay raise and it expires within a year), but you couldn't possibly use all that leave within a years time.

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 16, 2013

    They won't be getting any raise, but they'll be trying to see if they can contract it out now. I'm sure someone has a buddy who own a company.

  • monami Dec 16, 2013

    This is a no-brainer. In-demand skill with local competitors, high turnover rate, backlog + critical role in prosecuting criminals = raise their pay rates to a competitive market level. The cost of turnover and rehiring alone should warrant a pay scale review. Duh!

  • thewayitis Dec 16, 2013

    I think the State would be better off paying higher wages, but cutting benefits, just like in industry. Those pensions cost taxpayers a lot, and pensions are rare in the real business world. A pension, along with the ability to carry over sick leave, is about the only reason to work for the government.

  • SaveEnergyMan Dec 15, 2013

    State government is becoming a dumping ground for the unemployable or people needing experience to get a real job. This will continue until the taxpayers realize you get what you pay for - substandard pay gets you substandard employees. Money doesn't fix everything, but people don't work for honor of serving the state either.

  • razor2 Dec 14, 2013

    This is just more of the birds coming home to roost.....

    N.C. and many other southern states are no strangers to below standard pay for its citizens for many many years. Seems like
    it got stuck in the 1930's on how much those who are in the
    position to dictate the level of income in this state for all
    these years.

    And no its not due to market or skills its just due to plain old
    fashion greed. Old money is Old money and those who are in control of it have sit on it and make it nearly impossible for
    others to earn or claim.Its grown moldy like the list of
    complaints about the inequality.

    As long as greed dictates financial well being of us all there will never be a fair and honest approach to the division of wealth in this state let alone our country.

  • mtns_to_sea Dec 13, 2013

    Hurley's laughable response is a stock response to any expressions of problems with employee morale in the state system, because of pay discrepancies that have occurred and raises that have not been seen in several years. The other is that you're free to get a job somewhere else, which many have and will, but the truth is that not everyone's circumstances are such that they can accept a job anywhere it's offered at any time. Jobs are often about timing. People have responsibilities outside of work that do not always make it possible to leave just because they're dissatisfied. Children, family, spouses, etc. Certainly the "responsible" party understands and empathizes with people being responsible? Of course, if all else fails they blame the Medicaid budget gap. It's like a virus that they've used to infect every aspect of state government. It's amazing what one percent can do to ninety-nine percent.