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Crime Labs: Lawmakers must renew supplemental funds

West Virginia is among states that have made gratifying progress in reducing backlogs in laboratory testing of evidence in criminal cases. Unfortunately, there still are waiting lists for law enforcement agencies.

As the Bluefield Daily Telegraph recently pointed out, the backlog of DNA testing at the State Police Crime Lab was 4,886 cases four years ago. It has been reduced to about 1,700 cases.

That was in part because state legislators in 2016 approved supplemental funding for the lab. But authorization for added financial resources will expire next year.

Even with some new money, the crime lab has not been able to move as expeditiously as it should. As the Bluefield newspaper noted, one means of decreasing the backlog was a crime lab policy limiting the number of pieces of evidence that can be tested in some cases. That can make prosecuting criminals more difficult.

And, as some lawmakers have pointed out, slow progress at the crime lab has another negative side effect. With all the talk of the cost of keeping people incarcerated, it is important to note how many folks are in jails (adding to the cost) but have not yet been convicted of a crime. Among the delays for some of them is getting results of drug tests from the crime lab, to be used as evidence in their trials.

Legislators should renew the five-year supplemental funding measure — and add meaningful resources to it to permit the crime lab to serve as the resource local law enforcement agencies need.

Can the state budget, already stressed, handle more funding for the crime lab? That is not the important question. It is, rather, whether West Virginia can afford not to fund the crime lab adequately.

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