The North Carolina State Crime Laboratory operates full-service laboratories in Raleigh, Asheville and Greensboro. Typically, evidence from Cumberland County Law Enforcement Agencies was sent to Raleigh for analysis. Typically, the local agencies waited months to get the results of those analyses back. At one time, Cumberland County prosecutors were waiting for more than 1,300 drug samples to be analyzed.
Two years ago, at the urging of District Attorney Billy West, city and county governments agreed to fund a local crime lab primarily to test illegal drugs.
Two years before that, county officials broke ground on an expansion of the Cumberland County Detention Center because of severe overcrowding. The original jail was built to house 568 inmates; but regularly held more than 640 men and women. The $15 million expansion project added 316 beds to the jail, which had been overcrowded for many years. The new addition expands the jail to an inmate capacity of 884, making it one of the largest detention centers in the state with 187 sworn officers and a civilian staff of 79. On average, the daily inmate population is about 740, according to Sheriff Earl “Moose” Butler, well below capacity.
What does the crime lab have to do with easing jail overcrowding?
“It’s one of three actions taken in recent years to manage the detention center population,” said West.
A prosecutor was assigned to oversee jail operations and the Sheriff assigned a liaison officer to assist the D.A. The new Fayetteville forensic laboratory has provided test results in drug cases to the Sheriff and the Fayetteville Police Department in one to two weeks, explained West, who added, “Those cases represent up to 20 percent of our case load, and moving them through the courts rapidly results in a reduction of the detention center population.”
Integrated Forensic Laboratories LLC, of Texas, was hired to operate the local lab in a downtown, county-owned building. The company says it has operated labs supporting law-enforcement work for more than 40 years. Local law enforcement is no longer dependent on the overwhelmed state laboratory for analysis of evidence in substance abuse cases. The Sheriff’s Office would like to see the local lab expanded to include DNA testing.
“It’s expensive but needed,” said Sheriff’s Office Legal Counsel Ronnie Mitchell. The sheriff’s office budget request for Fiscal Year 17 includes $30,000 to begin DNA testing. The science of DNA analysis, he says, has become extremely sophisticated and requires the latest technology and trained personnel.