D.C. wants $31M from feds for crime lab

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Local,Scott McCabe

The District of Columbia will askthe federal government for more than $31 million for fiscal 2009 to build the long-delayed forensics lab, according to a budget proposal obtained by The Examiner.

Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration two months ago scrapped plans to build a long-awaited crime lab at the First District police

headquarters in Southeast Washington, stalling construction indefinitely.

But his office insists that it will find a new site for the building and that the $215 million project will be completed in late 2011 as scheduled. His spokeswoman, Carrie Brooks, did not respond to requests for comment.

Council Member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said the federal government needs to increase its funding for the lab, which would ease the burden on agencies such as the FBI and DEA.

"[But] it’s a tough sell when we haven’t even started yet and the only progress we see is a mountain of delays on this project," Mendelson said.

The District plans to match the $31 million with $75 million of its own next year to help pay for the $214 forensic and public health laboratory, according to the budget proposal. It also plans to request $50 million from the federal government for the lab for fiscal 2010.

The DNA lab is considered essential to help the D.C. police clear its backlog of thousands of unsolved rapes and homicides that date back to the late 1960s. It’s also vital for the city to prepare for a biological or chemical attack or catastrophe.

But the District’s DNA program has been beset by delays for nearly a decade.

In the meantime, D.C. has to rely on the FBI lab at Quantico, which is trying to process evidence from crime scenes all over the world.

Since fiscal 2005, the District has allotted $35 million for the lab, while the federal government has pitched in $23 million, according to city records.

The District estimates that the city will contribute three-fourths of the project’s final costs while the federal government will help with the remainder.

In September, Fenty’s administration decided not to locate the crime lab in leased space at 225 Virginia Ave. SE, a location that he had chosen five months earlier.

The city had already spent more than $2.5 million on the building for rent and designs, and Mendelson said change in the plan set back

construction by another year.

smccabe@dcexaminer.com

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Scott McCabe

Staff Writer - Crime
The Washington Examiner