Crime lab in Augusta is thriving

Facility provides specialty services across 15 counties

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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.

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Forensic Technician Linda Blanchard and Sullivan use a gas chromatography mass spectrometer to identify substances within a test sample. The lab handles about 2,500 cases a year.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Forensic Technician Linda Blanchard and Sullivan use a gas chromatography mass spectrometer to identify substances within a test sample. The lab handles about 2,500 cases a year.

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."

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sdfsdf 03/24/11 - 08:34 am
"What makes us a successful

"What makes us a successful lab is the personnel and their dedication to the job they do," Absolutely meaningless. Everyone could claim the same thing. Shut it down. Government spending needs huge cuts. Nothing wrong with cutting here. Privatize it and stop spending my tax dollars.

aninsider 03/24/11 - 09:56 am
To sdfsdf. If you think

To sdfsdf. If you think privatizing this service will reduce your tax dollars you better think again. Privatizing this will only cost more because the services that are being done are requested by law enforcement and anything they request is being paid for by tax dollars. Outsourcing or privatizing only costs more than what the state provides us.

cojak 03/24/11 - 10:42 am
Amen aninsider. These people

Amen aninsider. These people do a tremendous service for the citizens of this area. Unless it is a case involving you or one of your loved ones, it can be outsourced and justice an be delayed.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 03/24/11 - 11:20 am
Just got help from this lab

Just got help from this lab yesterday. This lab is one of the most important assets in fighting crime in GA. Everyone knows i am the local leader of the N.ational T.axpayers U.nion, and clearly anti waste. However privatizing this lab would be cutting off our nose to spite our face.
This crime Lab has earned a solid 5 star rating from me (where I have an A+ myself). Augusta Crime endorses this lab and everyone in law enforcement that i know of DEPENDS on this lab. There are literally hundreds of places in Government where we could save much more and get better results by privatization or closure. This isn’t one of them. Just having it here makes criminals set up in other towns and leave us alone.

aninsider 03/24/11 - 03:03 pm
It's good to see that there

It's good to see that there are more people who appreciate the services that are performed by this lab than there are people who are apparently ignorant of how their tax dollars are spent.

I also have had to call upon the services of this lab in the past when I was a deputy coroner. We are very fortunate to have the staff we have there - especially considering what the state pays. They could make a lot more working for a private company instead of serving the public. Apparently they have are dedicated to the cause they work for. I have also had cause to visit other labs in the state and I can honestly say that the staff at the Augusta lab shows a lot more interest in their work and the people they serve than just collecting a paycheck.

And lastly, since my husband and I pay a lot of taxes in 3 local counties (Warren, McDuffie and Columbia), I want to be one of the first to say that I feel any funds spent on these labs are well spent. I can't say that about a lot of other services these ever-increasing taxes pay for.

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