From the Chattanooga Times – Free Press :

Legislators told law enforcement officials Tuesday that their pleas came too late to keep some crime labs from closing at the end of this month.

"We have looked at multiple options to try and keep those open," said Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, vice chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for public safety.

To save money, three crime labs will close on March 31, including one in Summerville in Chattooga County.

Rep. Martin said no one has contacted him since April 2009, when the closings were announced, to negotiate a solution.

"I keep hearing people talk about a partnership and have yet to receive a phone call," he said.

Representatives for labs in Moultrie and Columbus asked legislators to consider other ways to continue funding the labs, such as matching state funds with local funds from counties served by each crime lab.

A representative for the Chattooga lab was not present and could not be reached for comment.


The GBI’s Northwest Georgia Crime Laboratory covers Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Murray, Polk, Walker and Whitfield counties.

* Summerville, Columbus and Moultrie: Labs slated for closure

* Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Macon, Cleveland: Remaining labs

* $300,000: Estimated savings this year by closing the three labs

* $700,000: Estimated savings in a full year once all three labs close

* March 31: Date of lab closures

* 281: Total number of authorized positions at seven GBI crime labs

* 56: Positions left vacant because of budget constraints

* 8: Number of employees at the Summerville lab

Source: Georgia Bureau of Investigation

"One of those is in my district, providing a needed service for local law enforcement," Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, said last week at a hearing on the 2010 amended budget.

Even with closing the labs, "we feel like we can still meet the needs we have," House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin said Tuesday. "In the future, it should not affect a backlog."

Rep. Martin said a central location for processing evidence may relieve statewide backlogs.

"Moving the equipment to a central location will actually reduce the backlog," he said. "You may be finishing all the work in Columbus, but there may be a backlog in Atlanta or Augusta."

Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said any ideas to fund the three crime labs would need to be proposed by the end of the week, before legislators produce a budget for fiscal 2011.

"When the labs run out of money, the staff will be transferred and the buildings will be mothballed," Mr. Keenan said.