Good police work: The state should fund the county crime lab

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Absent funding from the state, the Allegheny County Crime Lab could be driven to close its doors as early as next year. The lab is tasked with conducting a wide range of tests, such as DNA and toxicology, on criminal evidence from more than a hundred agencies including the Pittsburgh police department, county police, municipal police, state police and federal law enforcement.

Yet the facility has operated without state money since the 2011-12 fiscal year, relying instead on funds from the county budget.

Requiring Allegheny County taxpayers to pay for the processing of evidence is inequitable. These local residents support both the county crime lab and the seven state police crime labs with their taxes — in other words, they are paying twice. The Allegheny County Crime Lab handles cases that otherwise would need to be performed by the state police labs, relieving some burden from the state.

Last week, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto reported an “uptick” in the city’s homicide rate, which police say is due to a rise in drug-related violence. The city is very close to matching last year’s murder total of 46, yet it is only August.

While more police officers have been deployed to high-crime neighborhoods and crime-fighting partnerships are underway with other agencies, leaders in the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association fear that the impact of these efforts could be undercut by the closure of the lab.

If the county crime lab were to close, evidence would have to be analyzed by state labs elsewhere. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said it would likely be sent to the Pennsylvania State Police lab in Greensburg. In a hearing Tuesday of the joint Senate and House Democratic Policy committee, police chief Coleman McDonough of Mt. Lebanon warned that the additional miles driven to transport the evidence would fall on officers who would otherwise be on patrol. Moreover, delays in processing evidence could hinder the capacity of police to file criminal charges in a timely manner.

For Harrisburg to risk crippling police efforts that ensure public safety would be a crime of its own. The residents of Allegheny County, like all Pennsylvanians, deserve financial support from the state for the lab work that helps solve their crimes.

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