Yakima County sheriff supports creating a local crime lab to speed up investigations

Yakima County Sheriff

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. —  DNA evidence is crucial in criminal investigations, but with a huge backlog at the Washington State Patrol crime labs, law enforcement agencies in Yakima County are having to wait months or even years to get evidence processed.

Yakima County Sheriff Bob Udell said in some cases — such as those involving property crimes — the state crime lab won’t process the evidence at all because they’re focused on getting through the violent crimes first.

Udell said that’s why he’s in strong support of efforts by the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments to establish a regional criminal intelligence center that would give local agencies their own dedicated facility for processing evidence.

“This is an opportunity to put us all in the same boat, working together for the same goal because crime travels,” Udell said. “A criminal that does something in Yakima, may be doing it in Sunnyside tomorrow, Grandview the next day and in Terrace Heights next weekend.”

The center would be a collaboration between all the different law enforcement agencies in the county. It would cost an estimated $2.5 million in start-up costs, with each agency would be expected to pitch in money based on their population size.

“This is something that’s not done,” Udell said. “This level of collaboration is not normal among law enforcement agencies.”

 

The center would give local law enforcement access to rapid DNA processing, which could mean getting results back in 90 minutes instead of waiting for months on end for an answer.

Investigators would have also access to programs that would allow them to more easily retrieve evidence from locked cell phones or computers.

“That’s huge for us, because every time a criminal commits a crime, he’ll have a cell phone in his pocket,” Udell said. “And cell phones are so valuable to us as far as tracking movements.”

Other technology could include NIBIN ballistics firearms examination capability, ESRI crime mapping software and a staff of highly trained experts dedicating to processing evidence and analyzing crime data.

“Then, those analysts with that crime software, can develop reports and tell us exactly where and who we need to be going after,” Udell said.

YVCOG officials have said the center will not be under the sheriff’s office, in order to keep the evidence processing independent from the investigators using it to build cases and because they want to ensure the center would continue even if another sheriff was elected.

The plans are still in the early stage, so there’s no confirmed list of individual law enforcement agencies that have signed up to be a part of the center.

Udell said there’s still a lot of details to work out, but based on his conversations with other agencies, most are in support of the idea of having their own local crime lab.

YVCOG has applied to Yakima County for $2.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to get the center up and running. County commissioners plan to announce the recipients of their ARPA funds by the end of September.

“YVCOG has also applied for a major grant with Senator Murray and I have applied for funding for a rapid DNA machine that is about $450,000 through Dan Newhouse’s office,” Udell said. “So we’ve got feelers out all over the place.”

Udell said ideally, if they’re able to get the necessary funding, the goal is to have the regional criminal intelligence center open by early 2023.

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