Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $316,763)
The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) provides the criminal justice community with a full-service state-of-the-art forensic laboratory and is tasked with analyzing samples submitted by law enforcement agencies and coroner’s offices throughout the state. While the need to decrease the number of backlogged cases at SLED is evidenced by the number of cases that have not been processed (see Program Narrative), progress is being made in this area through the use of Paul Coverdell grant funds for overtime hours and equipment purchases.
Local laboratories also continue to experience backlogs due to the number of cases they are receiving from law enforcement agencies in their areas. With the increase in drug arrests in the regions where these facilities exist, more cases are being sent directly to these labs rather than SLED, resulting in additional backlogs. Additionally, the introduction of the S.C. Hemp Farming Act has created even more issues for these local laboratories. Several laboratories are sending marijuana/hemp samples to SLED for processing, because they do not have the manpower and/or resources to process the samples in-house.
There are currently 15 forensic laboratories in the state. Six of these laboratories are currently accredited. Utilizing Paul Coverdell funds to apply for laboratory accreditation will substantially improve the forensic science and or/medical examiner/coroner services in the state. Funds will be used in helping those laboratories prepare and apply for accreditation. These costs may include staff training, certification fees, or fees related to facilities.
The opioid epidemic has caused an influx of cases across the state, which has further contributed to the number of backlogged cases at SLED and local laboratories. In order for forensic labs to increase productivity and efficiency, they must purchase instrumentation and train personnel to remain current with technology standards. Utilizing Paul Coverdell funds to upgrade outdated equipment, obtain additional training, and provide funding for overtime hours for lab personnel will allow for more rapid processing of evidence, faster case turnaround, and quicker apprehension, prosecution and conviction of criminal subjects.