Crime Lab Use Will Cost Local Law Enforcement

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The Arizona legislature's move to slash the Department of Public Safety crime budget could cost Payson more than $100,000.

Even so, some law enforcement officials say they are sympathetic to the DPS's plan to charge for crime lab services, originally offered free.

"A lot of people are beating up on DPS, but if they want a functional crime lab, they have got to charge for it," said Gila County Sheriff John Armer.

DPS said it would begin charging for services after the legislature cut the crime lab budget by half to $7.8 million.

"The state, in their infinite wisdom, cut $7.8 million from the crime lab budget and then passed a statute enabling them (DPS) to charge," Armer said. "It put DPS in a bad position, having to charge."

State fire, police, sheriff's departments and medical examiners' offices can now be billed for any lab work completed by DPS. Proposed fees include, $87 for a blood analysis kit, $220 for a drug toxicology sample and $500 for DNA results.

Payson Police Chief Don Engler said he is upset the agency was not given any notice about the fees ahead of time.

"There was no warning," he said.

The charges come after police and sheriff departments approved their 2008 budgets.

"We already have a tight budget," Engler said. "We might have to ask for contingency money."

Last year, lab work completed for Payson police totaled $113,000.

"We don't have that laying around," Engler said. "We are going to have to make cuts in other areas."

The department will watch closely what is submitted to eliminate unnecessary fees, Engler said.

Armer said the new fees are affecting the sheriff's department.

"We had to budget some money for it."

Gila County earmarked $110,000 for the attorney, task force and sheriff's department in reaction to the news, Armer said. The money is specifically allocated for crime lab services.

Armer said he did not know what DPS would bill for last year's services.

Regardless of cost, Armer said the department would not cut back on having evidence processed.

"We are going to do what we need to do and see how we are going to pay for it," he said.

The sheriff's department has already set up measures to reduce costs, Armer said.

"We will not be shipping out random blood tests, if we do not know it is going to trial," Armer said. "If it is not going to trial, we may not need the trial evidence."

Using private labs is not a cost-effective option, he said.

Engler said the department is not opposed to using private labs and has looked into prices.

DPS's crime lab has a high workload, Engler said. "Hopefully this will help with the workload end because they have been under high demand."

Armer said DPS has always done a good job. "I am sorry that they have been put in this position."

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