A planned regional DNA lab in Guilford County is now dead in the water according to Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes.
For well over a year, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department and sheriff’s departments in neighboring counties have been working together to establish a new DNA crime lab with the capability to return quick results; however, Barnes said this week that other counties are pulling out of the arrangement after the recent election.
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Sheriff-elect Danny Rogers pulled in more votes than Barnes – who has been leading the DNA lab project.
Area law enforcement and judicial officials have been eagerly awaiting the new crime lab since it can take years to get results back from the state lab in Raleigh. Barnes said that outsourcing the work to private firms costs about $800 per test and the state isn’t willing to pay that.
Barnes also said it would have helped area prosecutors to a have a local technician handling rape kits and other DNA evidence in Guilford County. It is time-consuming and costly to get a lab technician to drive from Raleigh to Guilford County to testify in a trial. Barnes said the DNA lab project in Guilford County would have made that situation much better. He said it would have helped the partnering counties as well.
“If it were Rockingham County, for instance, they could call and say, “We need you within the hour,’” Barnes said of a locally based DNA lab technician.
Barnes said this week that surrounding counties previously participating in the lab project are no longer willing to go in with Guilford County.
“Some have called me and said, ‘We’re out,” Barnes said.
Barnes said area sheriffs are understandably cautious about working with a Guilford County they don’t know on something as sensitive and important as DNA evidence for criminal cases.
“Anytime you get a group working together on something like this, you have to have trust with one another,” Barnes said. “If I tell them the way it’s going to be, they can take that to the bank.”
He said that trust level has to be very high before a department will turn DNA evidence over to another county – and right now Rogers is an unknown quantity and someone the sheriffs of surrounding counties have never worked with.
The evidence lab was to be located on the top floor of a renovated old Guilford County jail in downtown Greensboro. However, since the election, that entire renovation project has fallen by the wayside. Rogers recently told commissioners that he didn’t want the old jail renovated – and now there are not enough votes on the Board of Commissioners to proceed with renovating the old jail into offices for the sheriff’s department and a regional crime lab.
“Our part was to be the building,” Barnes said, adding that the plan called for Alamance, Davidson and Rockingham counties and others to bear the brunt of the costs.
Barnes said he hates to see the DNA lab project evaporate because it is vitally important.
Barnes also said that other cooperation-based regional plans might also get nixed if Rogers is unable to establish trust with the sheriffs of the surrounding counties.