Budget Limits Evidence Tests

State charges prompt police to cut on crime scene tests and worry about impact on cases

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In an effort to curb spending and slash lab fees, the Payson Police Department is holding back about 80 percent of evidence it would normally send to the Department of Public Safety for processing.

Chief Don Engler said the department is looking at evidence on a case by case basis and will only send in evidence if a case warrants it.

For example, in the past, a blood sample from anyone arrested for a DUI was routinely sent to the DPS crime lab for processing. Under the new policy, that evidence would only be sent if needed for trial.

“I would be shocked if other agencies don’t take this same approach,” Engler said.

In July, DPS said it would charge for services after the Arizona legislature cut the crime lab budget by half to $7.8 million. All state agencies, including fire, police, sheriff’s departments and medical examiners’ offices now get a bill for any lab work completed by DPS. Previously, DPS did the tests for free.

DPS asked Payson to enter into an annual agreement based on past use. Last year, Payson ran up a bill of $200,000 after submitting 800 different evidence samples. However, DPS reduced the bill after taking $5 million from the Gang and Immigration Intelligence Team Enforcement Mission and applying it to its crime lab. That reduced the cost to all departments by up to two-thirds. Payson will be charged $30,000 for last fiscal year’s services — a bill that hit the town after the money had already been spent.

Even with a drop in price, the town is ill prepared to pay because its 2008 budget, approved a few weeks before the fee change, does not include evidence processing.

“We have to limit our expenses as best we can,” Engler said. “We are still in a holding pattern trying to see what we want to do.”

The department may use additional labs for testing if they prove to be cheaper.

“We are still exchanging letters with DPS,” he said.

Under the new policy, DNA profiling costs $475, toxicology testing of blood and urine for drugs costs $220 and fingerprinting $300.

Engler said the new policy is a big change for the department and its detectives. Detective Matt Van Camp said he uses every aspect of the crime lab, from firearm testing to its criminalists.

“We used to send everything, but now we have to screen what we send out automatically,” Van Camp said. “This limits the tools available for the prosecutor and police.”

Prosecutors may now have to decide if they want to go to trial before they have the necessary evidence in hand.

“This makes the prosecutor’s job harder,” he said. “Crime labs also prove people innocent, not just guilty.”

Van Camp said in the past if there was a burglary, Payson would automatically send in all evidence, including DNA and fingerprints. Now, he cannot afford to do that.

“Can we afford to send blind samples of cases that will not necessarily bring a result?” Van Camp asked. “Is this the best way to spend money or should we save it for a homicide case?”

Van Camp said the new policy will affect cases negatively.

“Hopefully they will come up with a plan,” he said.

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