Three of the regional Georgia Crime Labs are being shut down early next spring.
John Bankhead, GBI public relations officer, said the agency was notified recently by the Governor’s Office and the State Budget Office that there was only enough funding to keep the three labs open through March 31.
The offices are in Summerville, Columbus, and Moultrie.
Local law enforcement uses the Summerville facility to drop off evidence. Now, the trip will be to southeast Atlanta.
“As far as hard cash, it’s not going to cost us more,” said Cedartown Assistant Chief Jamie Newsome. “It is certainly going to be a more frustrating trip.”
Rockmart Police Chief Keith Sorrells said it would cost the city more to go to Atlanta rather than the regional lab in Summerville.
“It will take a half a day to do that now. You’ve got the expense of personnel, vehicle wear and tear, and gas. It would about double the expense,” he said.
Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd, like the other chiefs, said the news was a surprise because he had not been made aware of the change.
He said it would take more time to routinely get evidence to Atlanta. His concern was sparing personnel because he is currently short-staffed.
Bankhead said the regional offices offered more of a convenience rather than practical services to law enforcement. Summerville did chemistry and alcohol testing, but sent all other evidence to Atlanta for testing, he said.
Newsome said it’s the chemical testing that has him concerned about a backlog. He said methamphetamine cases require testing and sending all of it to the Atlanta office could pose problems.
“I am concerned about expediting in getting cases back and how that is going to be prioritized,” he said, adding that marijuana testing can be done at the Cedartown Police Department.
Sorrells said he hopes the crime lab will prioritize by whatever agency gets their evidence in first, rather than big cases from Georgia’s larger cities versus smaller cases from areas like Polk County.
“I would hope that we get the same shot as everyone else,” he said.
Bankhead said employees in the three labs would be offered an opportunity to transfer to either another regional lab or the crime lab in Atlanta.