County seeks options to accelerate drug evidence testing

Published 8:12 pm Tuesday, January 10, 2017


County officials continue to look for ways to speed up evidence testing for local criminal cases.

At the Jan. 3 meeting of the Beaufort County Commissioners, county Manager Brian Alligood reported on what he’s learned about using sources other than the State Bureau of Investigation lab to expedite cases through the courts and decrease the inmate population at the Beaufort County Detention Center.

“Where we are with that is looking at — essentially, the DA was saying that what would help him to move cases through more quickly — is drug analysis,” Alligood said.

According to a State Crime Lab report, the State Crime Lab system worked 54,986 submissions during fiscal year 2014-15, 371 of which belonged to Beaufort County. Because of the backlog of evidence waiting to be tested at the state lab — including testing of drug evidence —results might take a year to return. To process evidence more quickly, some counties and municipalities have resorted to other options, such as the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office introducing forensic chemistry as part of its Forensics Services Unit in 2006.

Alligood said several options for Beaufort County have been discussed in recent meetings, including use of private labs, partnering with other agencies with their own labs and building a lab here in Beaufort County — all of which would cost the county money, while the state lab services are paid for through the state.

“That would entail hiring someone who would essentially be a chemist. You’d essentially have your own lab,” Alligood said. “So what are those costs as compared to the savings you receive by getting someone through the judicial system quicker?”

Though Beaufort County could potentially partner with the other four counties (Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington) in the Second Judicial District to support a local lab, that option is likely a long shot, according to Alligood. Hyde, Martin, Tyrell and Washington counties had a combined total of 229 submissions to the State Crime Lab during the 2014-15 fiscal year, so the financial support to a local lab from those counties’ agencies would be minimal.

“We don’t have enough of that to support the initial costs,” Alligood said.

County officials have asked Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Rose to look at what partnerships may be available in Pitt County, Alligood said.

Ultimately, the cost of using sources outside the state lab has to be weighed against the county’s cost to house inmates at the Beaufort County Detention Center, which Alligood said is minimal until one starts looking sending inmates to other facilities for safekeeping or because of overcrowding.

“There are a lot of variables in there,” Alligood said.