Gilbert will begin having the Mesa police forensics lab process its crime scene evidence, which law enforcement officials expect will help them arrest more criminals who operate in the two communities.
Gilbert, like most communities of its size, doesn’t have a crime lab and must rely on other agencies to process everything from DNA in homicide cases to evidence at burglaries. The processing time can be agonizingly slow.
To get DNA results, the town now waits several months in persons crimes and 2-3 years on property crimes. Gilbert expects Mesa can cut that to two months on persons crimes and three months on property crimes.
The quicker turnaround times will help detectives have more timely information to act on, Gilbert police Lt. John Lyle said.
“Gilbert cases will be solved significantly sooner and repeat criminals will be removed from the streets far earlier,” he said.
Gilbert and Mesa are close to approving an agreement for the crime lab to handle services that include blood alcohol level, drug identification, firearms, fingerprint identification, DNA and crime scene processing. Gilbert would pay about $553,000 in the first year to cover Mesa’s additional costs for personnel and materials.
Gilbert uses the Arizona Department of Public Safety lab for some processing. DPS does not charge for its services, but the agency has a significant backlog because it handles evidence from many cities across the state. Gilbert pays Chandler about $337,000 a year for other crime lab work that it will also shift to Mesa. Gilbert had considered spending additional funds on building a small crime scene program, but Lyle said it would have had a high cost per call.
Gilbert expects its crime scene budget will remain the same under the new arrangement.
Gilbert had not considered having its own crime lab because of the expense to build and operate one. The town collects 20,000 pieces of evidence a year.
Mesa opened its $22 million crime lab in 2008. It employs 58 people.
The lab’s work goes beyond developing evidence to be used in court, lab director Kimberly Fiorucci said. Detectives have found the lab can be a real-time tool when investigating crimes, she said.
Mesa police have found that when detectives submit DNA evidence to the lab, they get a suspect’s name for about 30 percent of property crimes. Police enter results into a nationwide DNA database with millions of entries, and results come back weekly.
“The more productive we are, the more our demand goes up,” she said. “So once people realize the benefit of doing more cases with DNA, I would suspect they’ll send more DNA cases to us.”
Mesa’s crime lab could begin adding staff this summer to accommodate Gilbert cases.
Lyle said the Mesa lab will handle services its current contract doesn’t cover, including drug testing, DUI drug testing and DNA. It also includes ballistics and fingerprint analysis on large or complex cases, as needed.
Gilbert police expect the additional lab work will have a significant impact on both sides of its border with Mesa. The communities share a large border, and criminals frequently offend in more than one city.
The faster lab processing should help detectives solve cases in both communities, Lyle said, and probably even beyond that.
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