Bibb County deputies are moving into a larger crime lab in hopes of performing more evidence tests.
In the midst of downsizing, the GBI transferred ownership to the sheriff’s office of it’s former crime lab located on the corner of Oglethorpe and Second streets, adjacent to the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center.
The GBI still operates a lab on Riggins Mill Road in Dry Branch.
Deputies have completed the bulk of their moving, but are still getting settled in. Boxes sat in corners waiting to be unpacked late last week.
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Sheriff Jerry Modena said moving into the facility will give deputies room to perform more tests.
Deputies perform fingerprint analysis locally and send other evidence to the GBI for testing.
“Sooner or later, we might be put in a position where we have to do things ourselves,” Modena said. “We feel like it’s going to be a service to the people.”
By performing more tests in-house, deputies may be able to speed up the time it takes for cases to go through the court system and help prevent jail overcrowding. As the process works now, some defendants have to wait in jail until the GBI can analyze evidence in their cases in preparation for trial, Modena said.
“The whole idea is to expedite the whole system,” said sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Hagerman.
Three GBI crime labs were slated for closure this year due to state budget cuts.
The GBI’s lab in Summerville closed, as did the lab in Moultrie, but state legislators have provided funding to reopen the Moultrie lab, pending the governor’s approval, said John Bankhead, GBI spokesman.
Legislators also provided funding for the Columbus lab that was slated for closure, but kept open by local funding, Bankhead said.
Bibb deputies have a five to 10 year plan for expanding services offered at the crime lab, Hagerman said.
Ballistics examinations may be one of the first new services, he said.
The GBI left behind a large insulated metal tank built into one of the laboratories. The tank is designed for technicians to fire guns through a hole in the lid. When filled with water, the tank absorbs the sound and force of the shot while allowing technicians to obtain a bullet for comparison to bullets found at crime scenes, Hagerman said.
An 18-month training program is required before deputies can start performing the ballistics examinations, he said.
Deputies also hope to soon be trained to perform toxicology tests and laboratory identifications of more drugs, Hagerman said.
Modena said his goal is to one day perform DNA analysis on-site.
While expanding the crime lab’s services will be expensive, Modena said the process will be gradual and he’s willing to pick up equipment second hand. Deputies also are seeking grants and charitable donations.
In the meantime, deputies have considerably more space to analyze evidence and the lab is more secure than the previous facility, Hagerman said.
In addition to several laboratories, the building has a two-car garage with space for deputies to examine vehicles.
Previously, technicians examined vehicles involved in crimes outside and at the mercy of the weather, he said.
“We are ecstatic,” Hagerman said.
The crime lab also has more room for evidence storage and room for later expansion, he said.
The forensics unit began in 2001 and 2002 with one person working without a vehicle and very little equipment, said Chief Deputy David Davis.
The unit now is staffed by four people. Modena said he has plans to add one person to the group in the coming months.
“Over the years, we’ve really grown,” Davis said.