Crime lab closure impacts public safety

By Marc Debbaudt

I have written extensively on the impacts on public safety from Proposition 47. I am concerned that those impacts are about to be exacerbated by the Los Angeles Police Department’s plan to shut down its Valley narcotics testing lab and shrink its staff of professional analysts. The abrupt and quite closure of the lab will threaten public safety as it will lead to court delays and result in countless suspected narcotics traffickers going free while awaiting criminal charges.

Without the narcotics lab located a few steps away from the San Fernando Valley’s main courthouse and evidence locker, suspected narcotics will have to be sent by courier to the LAPD’s main lab east of Downtown. It could take days to obtain test results with the proposed smaller staff of analysts at the distant site.

Time is critical in drug cases because prosecutors from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office need to get timely test results on suspected narcotics so they determine the criminal charges to file. Currently, it is a race against the clock during the constitutionally mandated 48-hour period during which charges must be brought or the defendant is released from custody. When the latter occurs, prosecutors must file new cases and request arrest warrants.

In response to the Proposition 47 crime wave, the LAPD has proposed to reallocate officers to neighborhoods that have seen the largest increases in crime. The move to close the crime lab and reduce staff means that officers who might be assigned to deal with the Proposition 47 crime increases will now be tasked with tracking down and re-arresting defendants who had to be released because the drug test results were not available after the initial arrest.

The LAPD’s proposal to shutter the Valley lab will make the jobs of police, criminalists and prosecutors all the more difficult.

After weighing the negative impacts that closing this vital lab will have on the community, officers and prosecutors, I hope that the LAPD will reconsider its decision and find less harmful ways to find savings.

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of District Attorneys. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

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