Goodbye to Crime Lab Jobs

Article excerpt

Byline: BILL BISHOP The Register-Guard

Oregon State Police forensic scientists Casey Roberts and Jennifer Bray said an emotional goodbye to each other and to jobs they loved and had expected to keep for their entire careers.

Both worked in the state police crime lab in Springfield, where layoffs forced by the defeat of Measure 28 took effect - reducing the lab's 17-member staff to seven. Statewide, state police lab layoffs cut 85 jobs, leaving 50.

Layoffs also kicked in for 129 state troopers and special enforcement positions - including 12 of the 30 troopers working in Lane County. Another 72 state police employees lost their jobs on Friday.

State Police administrators ordered the cuts to comply with a budget-balancing law passed last year by the Legislature that required specific state police program cuts if the temporary income tax increase failed.

The layoffs will mean a reduction in prosecutions of crimes as testing for drugs, DNA, firearm ballistics, bloodstains, fingerprints and other evidence lags behind police investigations and court hearings, said Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad.

For example, the 11-member staff at the state's DNA lab in Portland dropped to four. They no longer will enter DNA data from convicts into a national database that last year matched offenders to 143 crimes in Oregon where investigators had no other clues.

"Criminals will go free. We're not going to be able to make these cases," Harcleroad said.

Local prosecutors will begin screening police investigations to determine what evidence is crucial for scientific analysis in each case to reduce the workload on the state police lab network, which is the sole scientific resource for all Oregon police agencies.

Harcleroad also said that doing less lab work will weaken some prosecutions and force district attorneys to negotiate weaker plea deals than they might otherwise.

In the 2 percent to 4 percent of cases that go to trial, lab work will get a higher priority, he said. In some cases, police and prosecutors may be forced to hire expensive private labs to do the forensic work, he said.

The legislation that required the cut in crime labs failed to consider the value of the service and the expense of eventually training new scientists, he said. …