OUR VIEW: Forensics lab needs to stay put
The recent announcement that the Oregon State Police is considering all options when it comes to the agency’s Pendleton crime lab has sent shivers through the law enforcement community in Northeast Oregon.
And rightfully so.
Employees at the Pendleton crime lab were told July 30 that the OSP is considering all options for its forensic labs — including closing the Pendleton location — because of budgetary concerns. The announcement came from OSP Superintendent Richard Evans who traveled to Pendleton to make the announcement. While OSP does damage control by saying no decision has been made, the writing appears to be on the wall.
When a major crime happens in Northeast Oregon, local police rely on forensic experts from the Pendleton crime lab to collect the evidence that county district attorneys will need to make their case in court. When it comes to collecting important evidence in a case — something that could mean the difference between a suspect being found innocent or guilty — time is of the essence, time that is lost when technicians are coming from Bend or Clackamas to process evidence rather than over the hill from Pendleton.
There is no doubt the state has made a living through the recession cutting from two areas we believe should never be touched — education and law enforcement. But, while education is starting to see an uptick in funding from the state Legislature, does funding continue to be an issue for the state police, especially forensic services? According to an editorial in the Baker City Herald, for the current biennium the budget for forensic services is $35.9 million. That’s 9.5 percent more than the previous biennium. So, apparently the short answer is no.
So why at a time when most acknowledge the state’s economy is generally on the upswing and after a boost to the forensics budget of more than $4 million per biennium is the region’s other lab on the chopping block again?
According to the Baker City Herald editorial, the state, to cite just one example, is spending $5.8 million this biennium to oversee off-track betting on horse racing, a function that’s not nearly as important as processing crime scenes and gathering the evidence that ensures murders and rapists are convicted.
Yet that’s precisely what’s at stake with the potential closure of the Pendleton crime lab.
Law enforcement in Eastern Oregon has already been shortchanged — OSP closed its forensic crime lab in Ontario several years ago, another victim, ostensibly, of budget cuts. Yet since then, the Legislature has managed to boost the forensics budget by more than $4 million per biennium, and even with the increase in funding, another Eastern Oregon crime lab’s future is uncertain.
That just doesn’t sit quite right.