Raleigh, N.C. — 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.