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(VISALIA) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today called on California lawmakers and the governor to allow the Department of Justice (DOJ) to continue to provide free forensic services to local law enforcement agencies at each of the DOJ's 10 crime labs and the Richmond DNA lab.
"Access to first-rate forensic services is critical in solving cases, prosecuting criminals and protecting the public," Lockyer said. "With crime rates creeping up, this is no time to balance a state budget deficit on the back of local law enforcement, which is struggling with its own limited resources and funding problems."
Law enforcement agencies from 46 of the state's 58 counties have relied for 30 years on the DOJ labs to collect, process and analyze crime scene evidence at no cost. As a way to cut the state budget deficit, the governor has proposed requiring local agencies to pay a "fee for service" to use DOJ labs. Lockyer said that plan would cost local agencies, many of which are grappling with their own tight budgets, $3.5 million in fiscal year 2003-2004, and $7.1 million in 2004-2005.
Lockyer discussed the impact of the budget proposal at a one-day meeting in Visalia with district attorneys, sheriffs, police, probation, prison and highway patrol officers from seven Central Valley counties – Mariposa, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern. The "zone" meeting, one of eight held throughout the state, provides a regional forum for the Attorney General to discuss law enforcement and public safety issues with local law enforcement officers and update them on services the Attorney General's Office is providing to help them combat crime.
The Attorney General on Sunday released preliminary crime statistics for 2002 that showed crime rates had increased almost 4 percent over the previous year. Although the rates still are far below those recorded in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in California, Lockyer said it is important that the state continue to help local law enforcement agencies protect public safety – especially during lean budget years.
Based on average use of the DOJ labs in Fresno and Ripon during the past three years, the "fee for service" proposal would cost law enforcement agencies in the seven Central Valley counties $678,238 in fiscal year 2003-2004, and $1.357,855 in fiscal year 2004-2005.
The Fresno and Ripon DOJ labs have provided key services in several high-profile cases. For example, the Fresno lab analyzed evidence in the 1999 triple-murder of Yosemite sightseers Carole Sund, her daughter Julie, and family friend Silvina Pelosso.
The DOJ Central Crime Lab in Ripon analyzed evidence in the March 2002 murder case involving former Santa Clara County Sheriff's Deputy John Hogan, who was charged with killing his 5-year-old daughter, Michelle Hogan, and his three former step-children: Melanie Willis, 17; Stanley Willis, 15; and Stewart Willis, 14.
Lockyer said that while these tragedies garnered headlines, the labs provide professional, expedient forensic service in all of the hundreds of cases received. In 2002, the DOJ Central Valley Crime Lab in Ripon processed 11,829 requests for alcohol analysis, controlled substances, biological evidence and other criminalistic services. During that same time period, the DOJ lab in Fresno processed 7,469 requests for similar services in addition to latent prints identification.
The number of requests for services at the Ripon and Fresno DOJ crime labs is broken down by county as follows:
<center><U><strong>NUMBER OF SERVICE REQUESTS MADE BY EACH COUNTY, 2002:</strong></U></center><BR><table width="300" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tr><td width="69" height="125" valign="top">Fresno:<br> Kings:<br>Madera:<br>Mariposa:<br>Merced:<br>Tulare:</td><td width="58" valign="top" align="right">1,262<BR>626<BR> 305<BR>51<BR>1,457<BR>2,240</td></tr></table><center><strong><font class="subbody">PROJECTED COSTS OF FEE-FOR-SERVICE PROPOSAL, BY COUNTY</font></strong></center><br><table width="500" border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0"><tr><td width="100" height="180" valign="top"> <br> <br>Fresno:<br>Kings:<br>Madera:<br>Mariposa:<br>Merced: <br>Tulare:<br><strong>TOTAL:</strong></td><td width="175" valign="top" align="right"><strong>(FISCAL YEAR 2003-04)</strong><br> <br>$156,686<br>$68,282<br>$34,944<br> $5,704<br>$173,395<br>$239,227<br><strong>$678,238</strong></td><td width="175" valign="top" align="right"><strong>(FISCAL YEAR 2004-05)</strong><br> <br>$317,850<br>$138,514<br>$70,887<br>$11,570<br>$351,745<br>$485,289<br> <strong>$1,357,855</strong></font></td></tr></table>
Kern County has its own forensic lab and does not use the regional DOJ crime labs.