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Crime lab closure should spur look at alternatives

September 22, 2000

Crime lab closure should spur look at alternatives



The prospect of having to open jail cell doors and free suspects in illegal drug cases is a serious concern for Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely. But due to the closing of the West Virginia State Police laboratory in Charleston after "certain inconsistencies" were discovered in the lab's drug section, it just might happen.

The lab was closed after its manger reported one lab worker's complaint about another's behavior to State Police Superintendent Gary Edgell, who called the FBI in to investigate on Sept. 7, a day after the lab was closed. The move leaves prosecutors wondering which previous cases are in jeopardy, and worse, how they'll deal with new cases.

Michael Thompson, Jefferson County's prosecutor, says he won't send any more drug cases to the grand jury until the problem is solved. Games-Neely said that there will still be drug arrests, but seemed unsure as to how they would be prosecuted. Both said that hiring private labs to do testing would be cost-prohibitive.

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It may be time, then, to consider a regional police laboratory for the Eastern Panhandle counties, a lab that would be staffed by someone with the proper credentials and training to analyze evidence and handle it properly.

Costly? No doubt, but if the costs were shared by a number of counties in the region, the financial hit wouldn't be as hard to take, and the results would probably be available more quickly. And local officials could scrutinize procedures firsthand, instead of depending on people several hours away to do it for them.

To look at how this might be accomplished, we suggest Panhandle officials check with the City of Hagerstown's police department, which set up its own drug testing lab in 1986, to save officers the long trip to the state police lab in Pikesville, Md., and to get results more quickly.

Two years later, the lab was handling thousands of suspected drug samples each year, as well as doing fingerprint work, fiber comparisons and vehicle paint identification. It's time for Panhandle officials to look into a lab of their own.

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