March 29, 2002 11:00 pm

PENDLETON (AP) Gov. John Kitzhabers plan to close four rural Oregon State Police crime laboratories has law enforcement officials in Eastern Oregon concerned.

The proposal calls for consolidating rural crime labs in Pendleton, Bend, Ontario and Coos Bay into existing labs in downtown Portland, Salem, Springfield and Medford. That would trim $676,630 from the 2001-2003 biennial budget, said

Bob Applegate, spokesman for the governor.

I think its really going to be devastating to law enforcement in Eastern Oregon, said Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup. There is no way we can get the service we get now if we move everything to the I-5 corridor.

After a homicide this winter in a residential Burns neighborhood, Glerup was forced to leave the victims body outside for four hours until a forensics team arrived from Ontario, 130 miles away, he said.

Glerup said he doubted a team based west of the Cascades could have arrived the same day, given the greater distance of about 275 miles, the winter weather and at least one mountain pass.

We needed immediate response from the crime lab, said Glerup. Timeliness is essential in a lot

of these cases to get a successful prosecution.

Illegal narcotics are another of Glerups concerns. After arresting a suspected drug offender, he must get the drugs he seizes to a crime lab for testing and have the results to the Harney County district attorney within five days. Failing that, he must release the suspect, he said.

Robert Hill, chief deputy district attorney for Umatilla County in Pendleton, has similar worries.

If you close this (Pendleton) crime lab, we might as well forget about enforcement of drug laws out here, Hill said.

Applegate said Kitzhaber shares their concerns, but there simply isnt enough money in the state budget. He blamed the unwillingness of the Legislatures Republican leadership to provide new revenues by raising taxes.

AP-WS-03-30-02 0316EST