LOWELL, Ark. (KNWA) — Arkansas State Crime Labs are getting more cases than scientists can handle, so a new building in Northwest Arkansas will benefit the criminal justice system in more ways than one.
Last summer Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Lowell will be home to the third Arkansas State Crime Lab.
With the approval of the legislature, the governor allocated money to complete construction of the 10,000 square-foot lab, which will share space with the Arkansas State Police Troop L in its new headquarters.
Kermit Channell, Director of the Arkansas State Crime Lab, says it will increase law enforcement efficiency statewide. “It’s a win for the state of Arkansas,” he said.
There is currently a five and a half month delay in drug chemistry cases state-wide.
“I really think by the end of this year, especially with the opening of this facility, we’re going to get to 60 [days], so close to where we need to be,” Channell said.
The facility will house six chemists and two evidence technicians.
“On average we get about 32,000 cases a year, but if I just look at all those cases a year — about 22,000 are specifically drug related. Of those 22,000, 36 percent are from this region,” Channell said.
Not only will the lab cut back on the current bottleneck of cases at the Little Rock lab, it will allow both crime lab staff who travel to Northwest Arkansas to testify in cases, and officers who deliver evidence to Little Rock to be more efficient.
Lt. Paul Pillaro with the Lowell Police Department says turnaround time for evidence is slow, and it’s affecting the judicial system.
“Not having a 3 hour drive to Little Rock and a 3 hour drive back after spending a half hour, hour at the crime lab. It’s going to save us a lot of time,” Pillaro said. “It will help the defense attorneys, prosecutors, and just try to open up the backlog in courts.”
Pillaro adds,”we have to respect the defendants rights as well, because once someone is accused and arrested, the clock starts ticking.”
Case work is expected to begin in the lab mid-September.
The other two crime labs are located in Little Rock and Hope.