State law enforcement officials say they need a $55 million investment to help experts process evidence and put criminals in jail faster.
The money would pay for a new laboratory for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on the campus of Washburn University. KBI Director Kirk Thompson and Attorney General Derek Schmidt say if legislators don’t approve the money for the new lab it could compromise cases.
The current headquarters is the former home of junior high students near 16th Street and Tyler, south of the State Capitol. The outside of the building has it’s charms; the laboratories inside, however, have testing supplies, machines, and boxes stacked on top of each other.
“This isn’t just a story about an old building,” said Schmidt. ”It’s a story about adequate capacity to support public safety around the state.”
The scientists who use the lab machines aim for two things, Schmidt and Thompson said: speed and accuracy. Thompson said the goal is to process criminal evidence in less than 60 days.
“It takes more time to do things, in a situation where your so overcrowded and you’re having to share work space, share technology, share instrumentation,” explained Thompson.
Everyone accused of a crime has a constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial, Schmidt says a fast, accurate lab is essential to getting bad guys off the streets. Schmidt cited a recent KBI survey of local law enforcement agencies which indicated four out of every 10 had to dismiss criminal charges or bring lesser charges against people, “Because the KBI laboratory didn’t have the capacity to turn evidence around quickly enough for the justice system to work.”
Schmidt says the effort to obtain funding for a new KBI lab has been ongoing for years. The most challenging part of the process is explaining to legislators the importance of a new, bigger laboratory. “It’s a large project, with a wide spread impact that’s not obvious if you don’t work day in and day out in the criminal justice system,” Schmidt said.
Thompson says the goal is to have about 1,000 square feet for every scientist to work, to avoid contamination which could compromise a case. The building averages about 400 he said.