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Fees for crime lab work fuel concerns from local governments

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

PHOENIX – Local governments across Arizona face new fees that add up to big dollars to get crime-scene evidence examined by state Department of Public Safety labs.

The fees were authorized in the new state budget to offset a $7.8 million cut in DPS funding and came as a surprise to city, town and county officials who had already approved their own budgets for the fiscal year that began June 1.

That has left local governments scrambling to find funds to pay for the lab work but has also elicited some fears that cash-strapped jurisdictions could cut back on evidence testing.

Previously, DPS provided evidence testing for free.

But the new state budget had to include cuts, borrowing and other steps to erase a $2 billion shortfall, and Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that the pain involved had to be spread widely.

A draft DPS fee schedule indicates a DNA biological screening would cost $125 to $500 per case, examination of a weapon $245, fingerprint checks up to $600 per case, a DUI blood collection kit $87 and analysis of fire debris for arson evidence up to $700.

According to a DPS draft cost summary based on case submissions from the 2007-08 fiscal year, individual local governments would face new costs in the thousands.

For the Bullhead City Police Department, for example, the tab was estimated at $44,499.76. The Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, $137,066.20. The Casa Grande Police Department, $160,513.79.

“It’s a significant amount of money for a lot of communities,” said Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

If communities can’t find money to cover the new costs and are forced to cut back on crime-lab submissions, “it could have an impact on public safety,” Strobeck said.

Napolitano discounted the possibility that public safety could suffer.

While the state had to make difficult decisions to balance its budget, “We are very intent to make sure that does not impact the gathering or collection or processing of evidence and so if we need to work with particular communities on particular matters, we will,” she said.

Yuma County Attorney Jon Smith, chairman of a statewide group representing county attorneys and sheriffs, said word of the new fees is circulating and forcing local officials to scramble.

Smith said his county Board of Supervisors approved a $163,000 budget amendment Monday to help the sheriff’s office cover the new costs.

He said it’s hard to imagine that a local government wouldn’t do what’s required to investigate a serious crime and that evidence such as DNA is important to help prosecute criminals and clear the innocent.

Should the public be worried about the funding issue affecting public safety?

“It could have an impact on public safety if resources become an issue in whether or not to investigate a case,” Smith said. “It’s unfortunate where you just don’t have the resources to do something that needs to be done.”

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