Governor Scott seeks funding increase for state crime lab
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Wednesday that he will propose a new state budget that will include more funding for the state’s crime lab to address a backlog that has doubled the time to process some types of forensic evidence.
Scott said his proposed budget for 2016-2017 will include an $8.5 million increase for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to fund a “variety of enhancements” for the state’s crime laboratory system. But how specifically that money would be applied in his plan will not be known until Scott releases his detailed proposed budget by the end of the year.
“The $8.5 million investment we are announcing today is critical to giving innocent victims the answers they rightfully deserve, including the thousands of women who have been victims to absolutely horrific, violent crimes,” Scott said in a statement to the media.
Scott’s statement didn’t include any indication about whether he will fund the agency’s top priority: pay raises for crime lab workers.
FDLE commissioner Richard Swearingen earlier this fall called for pay increases for crime lab workers to keep them from leaving for other jobs. Swearingen told Scott and the elected Florida Cabinet that the lab has been beset by turnover problems partly because of the low pay in comparison to other labs run by local governments and other states. In the last 5 years, the FDLE crime lab has lost 107 of its 297 crime lab analysts and supervisors.
"We are losing lab analysts at an unsustainable rate," Swearingen told state legislators at a hearing in October.
He said that turnover is contributing to the state's turnaround time in processing evidence for local law enforcement.
In 2012, FDLE told Scott and the Florida Cabinet that labs were taking on average 22 days to process chemistry evidence requests, 43 days to clear requests for latent finger prints, and 48 days to complete computer evidence submissions. All three areas now take at least twice as long to process, the Times/Herald reported in September.
In his September budget request, Swearingen said he would need almost $4 million extra to raise the pay of all 297 analysts and supervisors.
He also asked for:
- $3.9 million to upgrade crime lab test equipment and the state’s DNA database
- $3 million to build a new regional FDLE operations center, which includes a regional crime lab, in Pensacola
- $3.4 million to increase staff to handle officer involved shooting investigations in Florida
- And $1.3 million to replace FDLE vehicles, including those used to respond to crime scenes.
That funding request did not include an estimated $9 million FDLE officials have since said they would need to address more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits that sit in evidence rooms around the state. Many of those kits have sat on shelves for years, or even decades for a variety of reasons. Many times victims no longer want an investigation to continue or a case is not being pursued any longer. In some cases a suspect has already pled guilty to a crime and police never sent the kits for further testing.
But there is a growing push among state lawmakers to test those kits for DNA to identify assailants in other criminal cases or even help identify if there are serial rapists that could be on the loose.
Scott’s statement on Wednesday did not specify how much of his proposed funding request would go directly toward processing the older untested sexual assault kits.
Scott's is slowing rolling out parts of his proposed budget that must be submitted to the full Legislature by the end of the year. His recommendations are just that, recommendations. The Florida Legislature is responsible for creating the budget during the 2016 Legislative session, which begins in January.