More scientists will head to the GBI central region crime lab near Macon next year when the state closes down three other GBI labs.
The GBI’s central region lab will become a “concentrated center” for drug chemistry and firearms analysis, said George Herrin, director of the GBI’s crime lab.
“We’re doing the best we can to make a bad situation positive,” he said.
At the same time, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office is making plans for deputies to receive training to test some of the evidence they’re now sending off to the GBI, Sheriff Jerry Modena said.
The sheriff’s office took ownership of the GBI’s old crime lab building, located on the corner of Oglethorpe and Second streets, last week. The sheriff’s office has been using a small crime lab located within the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center.
Chief Deputy David Davis said the department is making plans to send deputies to schools to learn how to identify drugs and to gain the capability to perform drug tests.
“It’s always looking down the road and trying to anticipate things,” Modena said.
The GBI’s central region lab, located on Riggins Mill Road in Dry Branch, has 13 people who perform tests on firearms, confirm the identities of drugs and perform autopsies, Herrin said.
Labs in Columbus, Moultrie and Summerville are scheduled to close March 31, said John Bankhead, a GBI spokesman.
“It’s because of the cost of keeping those labs open,” he said.
A state budget shortfall previously threatened to shut down the labs, but funding came through to keep them open until March.
Herrin said closing the labs isn’t expected to affect the state’s evidence backlog as much as people would think. The GBI has a 6,400-report backlog of cases 30 days old or more, compared with a 34,000 case-backlog in 2000.
Herrin predicted closing the labs will cause a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in the backlog.
Modena said the sheriff’s office is getting results back from evidence tested by the GBI at a pace that’s “on an even keel” with the cases in court.
In some cases, deputies have waited six to eight months for evidence to be tested, Davis said.
Herrin said the lab closings will affect about 20 employees. Half of them are moving to other labs in the state, including Dry Branch.
Instead of stationing scientists around the state who perform the same tests on evidence, scientists performing the same types of tests will be located together, he said.
Herrin said the move is designed to cut overhead costs for maintaining buildings and the machines that scientists use in their work. For example, the Moultrie facility has six people in a 25,000-square-foot building.
Increasing the staff in Dry Branch is one way to help prepare them for the increased requests the scientists will begin receiving from south and west Georgia, he said.
Herrin said the GBI has used federal stimulus funds to hire about 25 people, but still has about 50 job vacancies because the positions are no longer being funded by the state.
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.