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Editorial: Expanding Ohio drug lab a good investment

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

On TV crime shows, detectives get their forensic test results almost immediately.

But that is not always the case in the real world, and too often crime labs struggle to keep up.

Today, investigators use many more types of evidence to make cases and solve crimes, but often they need formal testing to verify their findings or explain what might have happened.

The backlog of testing DNA evidence is felt in almost every state, and the National Institute of Justice estimates that in 2012 more than 90,000 cases were awaiting DNA results. The processing time affects more routine cases, as well.

So, it was good to see this week that the state of Ohio has expanded its State Highway Patrol's crime lab to help catch up, particularly with drug trafficking cases.

In August 2012, the Ohio lab had a backlog of 4,600 cases, and investigators often were waiting five months to simply confirm the type of drugs involved in cases, The Associated Press reported this week. The call to crack down on drugs had a lot to do with that. About 8,300 drug evidence requests were submitted to the toxicology lab in 2010, but that load swelled to more than 13,000 last year. Much of that is seized by troopers, but the lab also does testing for other law enforcement agencies.

The facility in Columbus underwent a $1.5 million makeover that expanded space by about one-third, and the operation added more than a dozen chemists and more work stations. New analytical equipment also speeds the process by adding machines that can test blood for more than just one type of drug. A recent addition can test for 10 classes of drugs, including marijuana and opiates, and officials hope that can be expanded to about 30.

Lab staff also has found other ways to improve turnaround time by moving to paperless record keeping and providing court testimony by video links.

The backlog now is down to 1,500 cases, and investigators are getting their results in about three months. The agency hopes eventually to cut that to one month.

"The last thing we want to do is arrest (suspects), and then not finish it up and not complete the deal," said state patrol superintendent Col. Paul Pride. "We've had that happen before."

Ohio has made a smart investment that other states may want to consider.

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