Miami Valley Crime Lab to test Indiana drug evidence

The Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab will soon be analyzing drug evidence for the Indiana State Police — the first contract with an out-of-state agency and one that may dramatically increase the lab’s caseload and benefit its bottom line.

The contract approved by Montgomery County Commissioners on Tuesday calls for the lab to conduct solid-dose drug testing on about 300 cases a month for the Indiana law enforcement agency.

“It’s a big deal,” said Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger, who oversees the lab that currently tests 450 similar cases a month.

MORE: Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab gets $293,000 grant to reduce backlog

With a current annual budget of expenses and revenues each equalling about $2.5 million, as much as two-thirds of the additional $600,000 contract is expected to directly improve the lab’s bottom line and stem cost increases for members, Harshbarger said.

“We are not going to have increases in expenses much. Comparatively to the income, it’s a real boost in the arm,” he said. “We are going to drop all the money to our bottom line, so one of the goals is to smooth out the longevity of the crime lab.”

The crime lab has about 35 employees and just added two additional analysts to handle the new cases, Harshbarger said.

Established in 1969 for the use of about 20 law enforcement agencies, the lab now contracts with about 70 member agencies. The laboratory services include drug and ballistic testing to examining fingerprints and DNA.

The agreement is the result of a conversation Brooke Ehlers had with an Indiana drug chemist at meeting in 2017. Ehlers this week was named director of the crime lab after serving in an interim capacity.

MORE: County leaders question success claims after coroner’s office director resigns

The chemist asked Ehlers if she new of labs that take on contract cases, which started Ehlers’ wheels spinning and subsequent conversations in 2018. Ultimately, the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab won the contract through a competitive bidding process.

Evidence testing for the Indiana State Police will be limited to testing drug evidence gathered primarily on the eastern side of Indiana, said Ehlers.

Because analysts will be required to testify to the veracity of their findings at court trials, the Miami Crime Valley Crime Lab’s proposal to Indiana authorities stipulated a 120-mile travel limit, Ehlers said.

“We do not want to be traveling to the western side of the state for testimony and lose an analyst for two days,” she said.

MORE: Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab’s future at risk

The crime lab will receive $140 per case and has 90 days to test and return results to Indiana authorities, Ehlers said.

The agreement is unique, but indicative of a widespread backlog in drug testing, Harshbarger said.

“It is a crisis across the nation. Labs are underfunded with the opioid crisis,” he said. “We’re hoping that this becomes a business model for others … State labs are typically not as responsive.”

Fee waivers extended

Also on Tuesday, county commissioners again extended fee waivers for demolition and building permits as well as inspections related to rebuilding tornado-damaged structures.

Property owners in the county who have been slow to receive federal aid or insurance settlements can now get the services free through May 31.

Montgomery County commissioners approved the extension Tuesday after previous waiver resolutions passed in July and October.

“Our ability to waive fees — reconnect fees, building regulation fees, demolition — it has been incredibly helpful in allowing people to rebuild or tear down their old houses so they can start anew or get their structures up to par,” said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert.

As many as 915 structures in the county were destroyed or damaged heavily in four twisters that touched down Memorial Day night in Montgomery County, including a powerful EF4 tornado that churned for more than 18 miles from west of Brookville through Harrison Twp. and Old North Dayton and into Riverside.

The county is certified to inspect repairs in the tornado-stricken areas of Brookville, Trotwood, Riverside and the Prairies at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as well as unincorporated areas of townships.

Permits are required for inspecting demolition, repairs and reconstruction. Fees normally are assessed for permits and for releases sent to gas and electric companies verifying that it is safe to return service to a building.

The city of Dayton has also waived through the end of the year certain inspection and permit fees or providing reimbursement to residential and commercial projects undertaken due to tornado damage.

Applications for a waivers or reimbursement within Dayton city must be filed with the city’s Division of Business Services no later than Dec. 31. The property owner or contractor must start construction on or before June 30, 2021, according to the city.

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