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New crime lab would help region

A new Denton County crime lab promises to be a great asset for the entire North Texas area.

Many county officials have been working with the University of North Texas for about a year to create a drug analysis lab at the school’s facilities, and the project is closer to becoming a reality, officials tell us.

Lt. Rick Clark, who has spent the past four years working criminal investigations at the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, told us that the new lab should expedite investigations. Currently, it can take anywhere from four months to a year for a drug sample to be processed and returned to the county, Clark said.

“We currently send our samples to the [Texas] Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Garland for processing and they are severely backed up,” he explained.

Denton County Sheriff Will Travis called the plan to develop the drug lab “a great collaboration.”

“The university would provide the facility and some student staff in exchange for us hosting the lab onsite,” Travis said.

UNT chemistry professor Guido F. Verbeck said only two students will be working in the lab, and they will have either bachelor’s or master’s degrees in chemistry or biochemistry. A deputy sheriff with the proper credentials will oversee the lab and the two assistants.

The bulk of evidence, Clark said, would still be stored in a property room at the sheriff’s office, but trace amounts will be brought over for analysis by the sheriff’s deputy.

Talks about having a full-blown crime lab — processing fingerprints and hosting their own medical examiner’s site — are still a ways off, Clark said.

“This lab will be like our trial run,” Clark said. “We have come to the point where finally all the stars have aligned. We want to make sure we go in smoothly before starting anything too big that we can’t handle right away.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done, officials said, and the first year of the lab analysis program will be somewhat of a test phase. While working to obtain ISO accreditation from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, the lab will be sent blind studies throughout the year to make sure it is able to properly test specimens.

With the new lab in place, county officials said, they would first request the backlog of narcotics cases on hold at the DPS lab in Garland to start operating at a higher level of efficiency.

Initially, Clark said, efforts would focus on local cases, but ultimately, the lab would assist some of the smaller surrounding counties such as Wise and Cooke.

Processing evidence quicker would help the district attorney’s office with its cases, said First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck.

“Our office cannot dispose of a case until we have the lab result,” she said.

Officials associated with helping the lab come to fruition said they are still drafting a memorandum of understanding to bring to the Denton County Commissioners Court for final approval.

In our view, a drug analysis lab to serve the local area is long overdue, and we congratulate UNT and Denton County on their collaboration.

Our law enforcement agencies and district attorney’s office shouldn’t be forced to wait in line for the lab results they need to process cases.

Our county population may not be large enough to warrant a full-blown crime lab just yet, but that day will come, and this effort should help pave the way.