Police lab closing will delay solving, preventing crimes

By State Rep. Fred Miller
Published in The Macomb Daily November 13, 2007

The recent state budget skirmish has prompted much public debate as both the positives and negatives from the compromise solution emerge. On one hand, it was positive that a state shutdown was averted. A shutdown would have had truly catastrophic consequences for Michigan in both human and financial terms. We were able to make badly needed investments in education and healthcare, yet on the other hand, political posturing trumped public policy in many regards as politicians chose the easy way out instead of making difficult decisions. While there are plenty examples of that, the decision to close two State Police crime labs, one in Sterling Heights, perhaps raises serious concerns and dire costs for the people of Macomb County.

State Police crime labs perform a variety of critical functions for law enforcement at all levels. These labs provide essential services that other agencies simply aren’t able to: analyzing ballistics, matching fingerprints, testing DNA samples, and other numerous and highly technical services vital to our police departments’ ability to solve and prevent crimes. Macomb County Sheriff Mark Hackel and Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith will tell you that the crime lab is one of the best returns on the tax dollars that we send to Lansing, not to mention an indispensable resource for helping them fight crime.

By closing these labs, local law enforcement officials will waste valuable time traveling farther with evidence to be analyzed, backlogs will grow at the remaining labs, and victims will wait longer before perpetrators are identified and caught. For Macomb County, the next closest lab is in Northville. That lab already is facing backlogs. In fact, backlogs of more than 16,000 cases have been reported and the processing of DNA evidence can sometimes take up to nine months. This raises serious concerns not only for public safety, but also for efficient expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Sadly, it is the victims of crime who will suffer the most because of these closings. The delay in turning around evidence will leave victims of crime waiting too long to see the offenders arrested and brought to justice.

These two labs are worth far more than the $2 million price tag to the residents of Michigan. It is my hope that this issue will be revisited, perhaps as soon as December, when supplemental appropriations are considered. I pledge to fight tooth and nail to have the crime lab restored, and I know that many of my colleagues will as well.

Closure of a facility as essential as the crime lab underscores one very important point: Cutting state government has gotten to the point where damage is being done to our public safety.

Those who would have us believe that the state’s fiscal woes can be addressed through cuts alone are offering us a false choice. Let me be clear: We should always be looking to make government run more effectively and efficiently, rooting out waste wherever possible. I am committed to this, and my “no” votes against several of the state budgets reflect this. However, cutting essential services like the crime lab costs us more in the not-so-long term, both financially and in human terms, and doesn’t make sense for anyone.

Miller, a Democrat, represents District 31.