Valdosta Daily Times

April 23, 2013

Solving cases just got faster

Crime lab receives drug certification

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With the ability to ionize and analyze the chemical composition of gaseous clouds, the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab will be able to work area cases faster and more efficiently while taking another step closer to ensuring the facility will someday match all of the capabilities of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab.

On Monday, the crime lab’s forensic drug chemists received accreditation, which allow area law-enforcement agencies a quicker response to processing drug evidence.

Instead of shipping evidence to GBI facilities around the state and falling in line with hundreds of other law-enforcement agencies, Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Joe Crow said the lab’s gas chromotography machines will facilitate shorter wait times for court cases pending drug analysis.

“A lot of the times, the backlogs from the state labs hold up court cases,” said Crow. “But now, things will get into the court system a lot faster and that will certainly be an asset. You’re going to have local chemists in a local lab that will be subpoenaed to local court cases. Getting them to court and schedule those court cases will be much easier than say trying to schedule a chemist from a state lab that works with 150 counties that may contain several law-enforcement agencies of their own.”

From ballistics and fingerprinting to trace evidence and chemistry, Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said he expects the lab to process all evidence within 21 days as opposed to the one to six months it may take to receive a report from a GBI crime lab.

The lab’s Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometers had been in place for months, ready to convert solids into gases and to charge the gas clouds so that their components separate based on their chemical volatility, Childress said. The police chief said he and other VLRCL officials had to recruit qualified operators, a search that he and Crow agreed took anywhere from six months to a year.

“We had to go out and find folks that had the educational background required to operate this equipment,” said Childress. “As of last week, we have three chemists at the lab and they are excellent folk. Two are from the city and one is from the sheriff’s office. They already had a lot of background when they came on board to their respective agencies here and all three had worked out of the VLRCL.”

Theoretically, the lab’s ability to analyze drugs is tantamount to the capability to perform toxicology reports. However, Childress said the lab’s next big step will be to achieve American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors recognition.

“Let me be clear — both the police department and sheriff’s office said from the get go that once we got into this crime lab business, we’d try to provide the same services as the state crime labs. The state labs are ASCLD accredited, so we’re perusing that, too. We hope to put in an application with those folks in March of next year.”

Crow agreed. The crime lab has been a work in progress since the police department and sheriff’s office agreed to operate the lab jointly roughly five years ago, but Crow said all parties have remained both optimistic and excited about its future.

“We’ve always felt proud of the lab and what it will accomplish,” said Crow. “As the crime lab grows and expands, it’ll become something that will transcend all of the individuals that are a  part of it.”