Allegheny County Crime Lab Facing Uncertain Future
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The state subsidy for the Allegheny County crime lab has dwindled from about seven million dollars down to zero in recent years.
A number of officials told legislators from Harrisburg what could happen if that doesn’t change.
Among them: the county executive who says your property taxes could be at issue.
“If there was another source of revenue that we could garner that would enable us to do it that’s something that we could certainly look at,” said Rich Fitzgerald. “But in essence right now we’d have to raise property taxes.”
The county executive got the attention of Democratic state lawmakers at a policy hearing who were eager to point out the decline in funding happened during a Republican administration.
Another alternative is to close it and allow the state crime labs to absorb the 19,000 evidence submissions and 100,000 tests per year.
The county medical examiner and Pittsburgh’s public safety director, though said the advantages of keeping it outweigh the prospect of shipping lab work to the state police lab in a Greensburg which is already overworked.
“We had a rapist in Ross township,” said Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams. “We were able because of a close cooperation to detectives working the case in Ross to get evidence, physical evidence necessary to arrest and ultimately convict that individual within seven days of the last rape in Ross township. That doesn’t happen anywhere else,” he said.
Stephen Bucar, the newly appointed Pittsburgh Public Safety Director agreed that proximity helps the timing of drug prosecutions.
“If we relied on the state police lab to do that we would have to ask them to travel down here and they wouldn’t be available as often as the personnel here in the county crime lab,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the fate of the county crime lab was uncertain.
For example in 2003 then-coroner Cyril Wecht said the crime lab was overworked and there was concern that the time it took to process cases was slowing down the process of prosecution.
Cuts in funding for the crime lab as far back as 1992 caused Judge Jeffrey Manning to write a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Press, at the time, in which he likened closing the crime lab to closing the jail.