Published: Jan 26, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 26, 2013 02:26 PM
One of the most enduring, if not endearing, predilections of government is its ability to find new ways to spend money. Durhams governments, city and county, are adept at picking up loose change shaken from the public pocket, so no one should be surprised by what the Durham Crime Cabinet has endorsed.
For only $186,051 a year (this is an official estimate, and no I dont understand either how someone divined the $51), Durham can station three dedicated chemists at the SBI crime laboratory in Raleigh.
Why would Durham want these hired test-tubers?
As staff writer Jim Wise explained last week, local law enforcement and the courts are desperate, since it takes an average of 172 days for the underfunded, understaffed SBI lab to get around to drug tests.
Why, asked City Councilman Eugene Brown, do we have to step forward and do this?
An excellent question from a reliable voice of reason at City Hall. Certified drug testing traditionally has been a state responsibility.
Some of Browns colleagues, alas, would step backward. Theyre bandying around suggestions that Durham could build its own crime lab, form a consortium of counties to build a lab, contract with a private lab or even convince Duke University Medical Center to do testing.
The latter is so unappealing to Duke that the medical center has responded with the sound of one hand clapping. But Duke Police Chief John Dailey did venture that testing would be a high hurdle for the university. In other words, forget it.
The SBI crime lab was created to serve North Carolinas county and municipal governments. Durham taxpayers shouldnt have to pony up money to pay for dedicated drug-test chemists.
(Many of these drug cases involve minor offenses, primarily by users, and would never have existed if this country had a rational drug policy. Alas, it doesnt, though we do seem to be moving toward decriminalization of marijuana under the guise of medicinal use.)
Brown again: The drug-testing backlog is due to the failure of our state to provide any leadership, including the will and wallet, to address the criminal justice system. Stay on this frequency, Councilman.
If the GOP-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will devote more time and money to the deficiencies of the SBI lab than the previous administration did, Durhams courts and the Sheriffs Office can get the relief theyre begging for.
The longer it takes for the SBI lab to process drug tests, the longer people languish in the Big White House before trial. Keeping inmates in comfort better than some of them have ever known costs about $100 a day per person thats real money over a span of several months.
Without going into the issue of what constitutes a speedy trial, there is another side-effect of drug-test delays that confounds Durham law enforcement.
Judges are under pressure to hold down detention costs by setting low bails for suspects. While not all suspects are violent, enough are for Durham to be justifiably accused of tolerating revolving-door courts.
Money can cure most such ills. Unfortunately, the Crime Cabinets endorsement of dedicated chemists for the SBI amounts to double-dunning Durham taxpayers.
The states spending priorities created the drug-testing mess; let the state fix it.Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.