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House explores D.C.’s need for a $200 million crime lab

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Local,Scott McCabe

The District is finalizing a location for its own crime lab and will make its case for federal funds to help pay for the facility today before a U.S. House committee.

Deputy Director of Public Safety and Justice Ed Reiskin said Friday the District is close to finishing a deal for a site for a $200 million, state-of-the-art crime lab, but said he can’t reveal the location yet.

The District expects to pay for two-thirds of the construction costs and hopes the federal government appropriates money for the other third.

D.C. Police Chief Ramsey, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, FBI laboratory head Joseph DiZinno and Reiskin will testify today before the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform led by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. The committee is exploring whether the District of Columbia needs its own crime lab.

The District farms much of its forensics evidence to the FBI and other agencies. DNA testing is shipped to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., and Baltimore has agreed to test 20 backlog cases a month for D.C. police. Ballistics evidence is sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and drug evidence to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But the outsourcing of evidence testing slows down investigations, said D.C. PoliceChief Charles Ramsey. Thirty percent of the FBI’s workload at the Quantico lab comes from D.C. and the FBI crime lab has different priorities, he said. A high-profile case in D.C. may not be important for the federal government, which also tests evidence from investigations from as far away as the Iraq War, Ramsey said.

The D.C. Council last month approved an $11.5-million contract with architectural design firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., to develop final plans for a state-of-the-art forensics laboratory for the District. The facility will be used by the Metropolitan Police Department Forensics Lab, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Health.

smccabe@dcexaminer.com
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