New Winston-Salem crime lab to speed up drug, alcohol testing

New Winston-Salem crime lab to speed up drug, alcohol testing
June 04
00:00 2015

In photo above: The City of Winston-Salem provides an inside look at its new crime lab. (Photo provided by City of Winston-Salem)

A new local crime lab is hoping to cut down how long local authorities wait for test results from months or years, down to just days.

Integrated Forensic Laborites (IFL) opened its new lab in the Alexander R. Beaty Public Safety Training and Support Center on Friday, May 29. The lab performs drug and blood alcohol tests for the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD). Currently law enforcement agencies around the state rely on the State Crime Lab for forensic testing and are experiencing long delays.

“With the State Crime Lab, there’s a backlog of cases; we’ve had cases down there for several years that still haven’t been tested,” said Police Chief Barry Rountree. “This is a way we can improve our agency, improve our service delivery to the citizens of Winston-Salem and also improve the judicial process for individuals awaiting trial.”

Rountree said that the wait time on testing causes major delays in criminal trials, extending jail time for some as they await for their day in court. In addition to drug and alcohol testing, the WSPD will also have the option to have tests involving things like DNA, toxicology and firearm forensics performed though IFL’s network of labs.

The city has a five-year contract with IFL for $108,000 a year. That cost is expected to be reduced by the amount of additional law enforcement agencies that contract the lab for services.

IFL operates and manages the lab, which the company installed itself. IFL also operates three labs in Texas, where it is headquartered. This month it opened a lab in Cumberland County, which will serve all of that county’s law enforcement agencies.

IFL is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, which is common for state, local and federal crime labs around the country.

In 2013, IFL was acquired by National Medical Services (NMS) Labs, a diagnostic and public safety clinical testing company whose main lab in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, has more than 200 employees and handles 600 crime lab cases a month. NMS Vice President of Operations Marlow Hicks, who was on hand at the opening, said there will be three employees working in the lab. He said turnaround on tests should be within five days.
“The lab is here to service the community. We want to provide a high quality service to support your judicial system and police agency,” he said. “Fast, accurate turnaround time is important for the DA [district attorney] to prosecute their cases”

After the lab’s ribbon cutting, law enforcement and city officials like Mayor Allen Joines and City Council Member James Taylor, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, were given tours of the lab. The public and media where not allowed inside, but a video of the inside was provided to the media by the City.

The high volume of cases sent to the State Crime Lab is only one cause for the state testing backlog. A 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision requires state lab technicians to appear in court if the defense attorney requests it, on the principle that defendants must be able to confront their accusers. This has taken many lab techs away from testing.

Another issue is high attrition, as many lab techs leave for higher paying jobs, a problem state lawmakers hope is helped by the raises given in the budget recently passed by the N.C. House of Representatives.

An IFL lab made headlines in Texas when an employee was fired in 2014 for mistakes in the documentation of samples, including incorrectly recording the names of 350 blood samples. The lab, which has been under contract since 2013 to analyze about 4,000 blood samples a year for Bexar County, conducted an audit on which cases where affected and disclosed the incident to the Texas Forensic Science Commission. In March, the San Antonio Express reported Bexar County DA Nico Lahood, who was newly elected last November, stopped sending samples to the lab for testing.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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