By Linda Collins
For the Herald
ENON — DNA analysis, drug testing and other crime lab services at the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory will soon come with a hefty price tag next year for the Enon Police Department.
Enon Police Chief Lewis Wilcox told the mayor and council members during the Tuesday, June 28 village council meeting that the annual cost for forensic lab work will shoot up in 2017.
“Our annual membership fee with the regional crime lab will increase from our current $1,100 to $6,805.41,” Wilcox noted. “It’s a significant amount of money.”
According to a letter, the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory sent to Wilcox in May, Montgomery County has provided more than $500,000 as a subsidy for the operations of the regional crime lab. However, Montgomery County has decided to withdraw the subsidy from agencies outside of the county by January 2017. The change will result in a substantial increase for laboratory costs for many agencies, including the Enon Police Department.
“The projected rate for annual member agencies is $183.93 per request,” said Wilcox.
The police chief said the regional crime lab would continue to provide services to non-member agencies and jurisdictions for a price tag of $225 per request, with additional fees for rush cases and numerous DNA samples. He noted that the village police department must make a decision by Aug. 31 to either renew its contract or end its membership with the regional crime lab.
The Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory currently charges $125 per drug test. Wilcox noted that the Ohio Revised Code permits a police agency to recover the cost of testing for drugs. Yet, those fees would need to be collected through the local or county court system.
“The court would need to hold a hearing to determine the amount of costs to be imposed upon an offender who is convicted or pleads guilty to a drug abuse offense,” said Wilcox.
Wilcox said budget constraints are prompting the village to reevaluate the department’s membership with the regional crime lab and to explore other alternatives.
“We need to look at this hard,” Enon Mayor Tim Howard added.
The police chief said a number of area jurisdictions have decided not to renew their contracts with the regional crime lab in favor of using state lab facilities at no cost. However, he pointed out that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) Lab in London, Ohio does not offer toxicology and DNA-touch sample testing for nonviolent crimes. BCI also limits the amount of DNA evidence agencies can submit for a single case.
In addition, the state agency will not perform urine screenings for alcohol or drugs, accept minor misdemeanor quantities of marijuana for analysis, or collect residue from syringes, except when that residue collection is in reference to death-related cases.
“If the department ends its membership, DNA-touch testing still would have to be conducted by the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab at $225 per test, and urinalysis would have to be transported or mailed to to the Ohio State Patrol laboratory in Columbus, which would conduct the testing at no cost,” Wilcox said.
“Why should the village have to pay out to enforce the law?” Village Councilman Rick Hanna said. “It is a no brainer.”
The village police department submitted 48 items of evidence to three different laboratories in 2013 and 105 items of evidence in 2014. However, the chief said he made a decision in 2015 not to send any evidence to the regional crime lab unless that evidence was directly connected to a contested case, such as a case involving narcotics or marijuana.
According to Wilcox, the village police department has submitted 22 items of evidence to the regional lab as of June 10. He estimates about 100 or more items of evidence would be submitted this year.”
The police chief suggested establishing a system to recoup lab costs through mayor’s court or a county court, using the 2016 figure of 22 requests for lab services thus far this year.
“If our cases doubled to 44 and we multiplied it by $125 per case, our reimbursement for the year would be $5,500,” Wilcox said. “Therefore, I have asked our village solicitor to look into how to properly establish this system.”
Howard pointed out that the village would most likely need to pass an ordinance regarding the collection of fees from offenders through mayor’s court or a county court.
The police chief noted that the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory would continue to provide a free, two-week EV technician training course to full-time police officers. The regional laboratory has reduced a number of laboratory positions and other operating costs to decrease its total operating budget by $600,000. However, considering the rising cost of fees in 2017, Wilcox said, the village needs to consider making some changes next year.
Linda Collins is a freelance reporter for Greene County News.