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Funding for state crime lab a disaster

Recently, I paid a visit to the State Crime Lab to expedite cases for Natchez. This was my second visit since last year as a candidate for Mayor.

Things have gone from bad to worse. The case backlog is unacceptable.

Put simply, it’s time to hold state leaders accountable for under-funding Mississippi’s Crime Lab.

Currently, because of this situation, the City of Natchez has dozens of unsolved cases pending, as do cities and counties all across Mississippi.

Many of these back-logged cases, pending for two and three years, are violent crimes, to include murder.

The bottom line is this: hundreds, if not thousands of cases are currently unsolved, and many suspected criminals are currently free, all the while our state leaders continue to underfund this important facility.

The statistics tell the story. For a state that leads the country in homicides per capita, with a 30% increase in homicides every year, Mississippi’s funding for forensic crime analysis is dismal.

A few years back, the state built a beautiful, state-of-art facility, and has yet to fully fund it.

Last year the state didn’t even provide enough funds for the payroll. $7.1 million was allocated — payroll is $8.3 million.

Cities like Natchez, and municipalities all over Mississippi, had to make up the difference by paying fees, and even this was not enough to adequately fund the lab.

To make matters worse, in 2016 the state “swept” $1.1 million in earmarked Crime Lab funds into the state’s general fund to balance the budget and continues to do so every year. These funds are no longer available for their intended use — solving crime. 

Staffing at the present time is critically low. Fewer people work at the Crime Lab now than did in 1994, even though crime has increased exponentially.

Salaries are virtually unchanged since 2007. A crime analyst, requiring a master’s in chemistry, starts at $33k per year while neighboring states start at $42k.

The state spends on average $150K training analysts only to see them quickly recruited elsewhere.

Analysts are not the only positions being cut. A few years ago, the Crime Lab had 17 drug analyzers. Today it only has 7.

Clearly, the only winner here is the criminal. And the big loser is the State of Mississippi – and the citizens of Natchez.

Just imagine, because of the backlog at the Crime Lab, many violent crimes remain unsolved while families of crime victims are still waiting for closure.

Suspected murderers are allowed to go free — the evidence needed to convict them is stuck in a drawer at the Crime Lab.

These same people are left to commit other crimes, and while they aren’t committing crime, they just may be standing next to you in a line at the grocery store.

This is inexcusable.

The leaders of our state, on record as being “tough on crime,” should back up their talk with action and fully fund the State Crime Lab.

Write your legislator.

Write the Speaker, the Lt. Governor, and last but not least, the Governor of Mississippi.

The time for action is now. For information on contacting our leaders, visit www.legislature.ms.gov.

Mississippi Deserves More.

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.

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