Allegheny County could face losing one of its unique features, depending on the outcome of a hearing Tuesday about the Allegheny County crime lab.
Allegheny is the only county in Pennsylvania to fund and run its own crime lab. However, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the lab cannot continue with its current funding system.
That’s why the joint Senate and House Democratic Policy Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday, where politicians, Bar Association members and law enforcement personnel will discuss the future of the lab. State Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny) and state Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) are organizing the hearing.
County residents pay state taxes that support Pennsylvania State Police crime labs across the commonwealth, and they support their own lab.
“Allegheny County taxpayers are paying double,” Fitzgerald said. “The other 66 counties get free crime lab services from the state crime lab, but Allegheny County, for the last couple of years, has been paying out of their property taxes.”
For many years, the county received around $7.5 million in state funds to run the lab, but the number dropped to $3 million in 2010, and for the past couple of years there have been no state dollars.
The lab handles DNA testing, blood and semen samples, bullet ballistics, and finger-printing for all crimes committed in Allegheny County.
“Whatever type of criminal activity that requires evidentiary testing in laboratories, the Allegheny County Crime Lab does this for our 130 municipalities and even some other folks outside of the county,” Fitzgerald said.
Despite funding concerns and a heavy load of evidence to process, Fitzgerald said the lab functions well.
“They do a great job. In fact, they’re much more efficient when it comes to how many pieces of evidence they’re able to process vs. the state crime labs,” Fitzgerald said.
That’s part of the reason he thinks it will be in the state’s best interest to support the lab, instead of shut it down.
“Again, I think it’ll end up costing the state more money, because Allegheny County Crime Lab actually is able to process more evidence at a lower cost than the cost of the state crime labs,” Fitzgerald said.
If the lab is closed, all evidence from the county will be sent to state crime labs Greensburg or Erie for processing.
The hearing will take place at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Allegheny County Courthouse.