Lawbreakers in Hays County may end up being prosecuted in a matter of weeks as opposed to months because of a partnership officials have created with the Austin Police Department crime lab.
Capt. Mike Davenport of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office said the county was processing “quite a few” drug cases through the Department of Public Safety’s crime lab, which handles evidence from 200 counties throughout Texas.
The volume of cases going through the state’s system led to a backlog, which Davenport said was creating crowding at the 362 inmate-capacity Hays County jail. According to a report by the Office of the Criminal District Attorney for Hays County, there were 601 misdemeanor drug offenses filed in 2012.
“The holdup there is that we’re sending our marijuana [cases] to be tested and, it was taking several weeks to be returned. We contacted APD, and we’ve turned several weeks [of waiting for results] into six days on average,” Davenport said.
Under the agreement, Hays County and the San Marcos Police Department will fund a full-time chemist position with the APD lab for what Davenport said would be “around $80,000.” Additionally, SMPD and other law enforcement agencies in Hays County will pay APD $55 an hour for firearm analysis, $36 an hour for latent fingerprint analysis and as much as $550 for DNA analysis.
Officials said they believe this will ultimately save taxpayers money. Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said his department has yet to process any cases through the APD lab but will take advantage of it when the opportunity arises.
“This will get the results back faster to the prosecutors and then possibly get the people before the judge at a faster pace, thereby getting them moved on through the criminal justice system and hopefully reducing any taxpayer cost for housing people that are [awaiting] charges,” Barnett said.
APD officials said this is the first time the department has partnered with another agency to provide these services.
“Our ultimate goal is to keep our population down in our jail. We’re reaching a point where we’re at a critical level and we’re taking measures so we don’t have to outsource prisoners and pay other jails to house our prisoners,” he said.
SMPD Commander Penny Dunn said her department will submit evidence in drug-related cases under the agreement but that anything else would be an additional cost for San Marcos.
Dunn said the Department of Public Safety crime lab in Austin has taken on additional cases from law enforcement agencies all over Texas, which has caused the backlog and led to delays in processing certain types of evidence.
“If at the Dallas lab, the DNA section is backlogged, they may send cases to Austin to be processed so they can catch up, or the Houston lab may send some cases to Austin because they see themselves as a team,” Dunn said. “They work together to try to maintain a level of processing cases as best they can.”