City, County and Law Enforcement Officials Hear Case for Keeping Crime Lab Funded

Aug 12, 2014

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams (left) and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald testify on the importance of the county crime lab in front of a joint legislative hearing on funding.
Credit Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Crime Lab is a full lab that performs a wealth crime-related tasks, such as DNA testing and crime scene analysis, but it’s funding has been cut by the state in recent years.

If the lab continues to receive no state funding, it’s in danger of closing. On Tuesday, a joint legislative hearing heard from a list of speakers about why the lab should be a funding priority. Allegheny County Medical Examiner Karl Williams said, for starters, it’s a one-of-a-kind facility.

“The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office is the only one in the country where the whole process of the crime labs and the morgue operation and death scene investigation is present in one unified structure, united by a customized, state-of-the-art information system,” Williams said.

The Allegheny County Crime Lab processed more than 20,000 pieces of evidence last year. If the lab were to close, evidence from crimes would need to be sent out to one of six state police crime labs in the state.

“If that were to happen, the deluge of extra lab work would overwhelm our state police crime labs, slowing analysis and compromising police investigations throughout the commonwealth,” said state Sen. Lisa Boscola. “Ironically, if that were to happen, the Legislature would end up having to build another state crime lab.”

Thus, she said, the state would end up investing more money into new facilities than they would in keeping the Allegheny County Crime Lab funded. Plus, Boscola said, agencies outside of Allegheny County would also be affected.

“What people around the state need to know is that this crime lab just doesn’t serve Pittsburgh and the Allegheny County police forces,” she said. “It also does significant work for departments outside this region, the state police and federal law enforcement agencies.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said if funding the crime lab were left up to the county, property taxes would likely have to be increased. Lawmakers at the hearing floated several other suggestions for funding, including adding a line item into the budget to ensure stable funding into the future.