Facing complaints of financial harm from cities and counties, the state Department of Public Safety has agreed to cut what it will charge for work performed by the agency's crime lab.
DPS Director Roger Vanderpool got the go-ahead Thursday from the state Department of Administration to take $5.2 million out of the account earmarked for gang and immigration enforcement. Instead, the cash will be used to reduce the bills DPS intends to send out beginning at the end of this month every time a police, fire or sheriff's department asks for lab work.
That does not cover the entire cost of performing services ranging from DNA analysis of evidence at a crime scene to checking blood samples to see if someone was driving drunk. The state had pegged the bill for all that work at close to $7.8 million.
Still, the difference is significant.
For example, the Chandler Police Department, which had been told it would have to pay nearly $150,000 this year, would find its cost cut to less than $50,000. South Tucson would see its bill cut to slightly more than $7,000. Even Tucson, which runs its own crime lab but sends some blood and urine samples to DPS for drug analysis, will find its original $91,000 estimate cut by two-thirds.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said the infusion of gang cash does help.
But he said it still leaves some communities in a financial bind, particularly as the decision to start sending bills for the services that had been provided free was not made until after most communities had adopted their new budgets and taxes for the current fiscal year that began July 1.
Potentially more significant, some police chiefs and sheriffs warn that the new bills could force their agencies to pick and choose which cases they can afford to investigate.
"It wasn't our idea to start charging," said DPS Lt. James Warriner. He said it was "kind of a surprise to us" when the $9.9 billion budget deal, which Gov. Janet Napolitano helped to craft, cut the state's allocation of dollars for the crime lab by more than half. It was that same deal which directed DPS to start billing local agencies for work.
Napolitano defended the decision in the face of the state's budget crunch. "The pain is going to have to be spread in many ways," she said at the time.