Crime lab in Augusta is thriving

Facility provides specialty services across 15 counties

Working with more than a $2 million budget cut for fiscal year 2011, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began looking at inefficient regional crime labs to see which ones would be closed.

 

Three were threatened with closure, but in the end only the Northwestern Lab in Summerville was closed permanently.

Augusta's Eastern Regional Crime Lab, however, is thriving.

"It's working well in Augusta," GBI Director John Bankhead said.

The lab handles about 2,500 cases a year for 15 surrounding counties. Some of the services, such as firearms and latent prints, are sent to other labs, but the majority are handled close to home.

It is one of only two regional labs offering forensic biology and the only one with a full toxicology service.

"We were down in the number of employees, but other than that we weren't affected" by the budget cut, said Kenneth Daniels, the lab manager at the Augusta facility.

The lab opened on Eighth Street but moved to its current location on Phinizy Road in 2002.

"What makes us a successful lab is the personnel and their dedication to the job they do," Daniels said.

The lab is preparing to add four toxicologists, who will begin after the completion of their training.

The most common service the lab provides is drug analysis, seeing about 115 to 120 cases a month.

The most common drug moving in and out of the lab is cocaine, Daniels said. It used to be marijuana until the GBI began training and certifying law enforcement at a "marijuana school" to cut down on amounts sent to the lab.

Closing the lab "would be extremely detrimental to us," said Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles. "We have very intimate contact. When they can get intimate details on the case, it helps get proper determination on cause and manner of death."

Closure does not appear to be in the future for Augusta's lab, or any other regional lab.

"The budget issue isn't as bad as it has been, and revenue collections are up," Bankhead said. "So as far as we know, there won't be any issues or closings of any regional lab."