Democratic Attorney General Kaul teams with Republicans to push adding State Crime Lab staff
Wisconsin Democratic Atty. Gen. Josh Kaul is teaming up with Republican law enforcement officials to get funding for more workers at the State Crime Lab. The bi-partisan effort made a stop in Milwaukee Wednesday.
The State Crime Lab has about 190 managers, scientists, and technicians at Wausau, Madison, and Milwaukee offices. The Milwaukee lab serves eight counties in the metro area.
Usually, the news media don't get beyond the atrium at the Milwaukee Crime Lab. But yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Justice let reporters into a work area where a machine about the size of a dorm refrigerator analyzes illegal drug samples contained in small vials.
Toxicologist Alison Goetz explains: "Each vial is an extract. So, when we get a sample in, we do several steps of clean-up. So we are just isolating the drugs that are within the sample. And then the instrument takes a portion of that sample and does its analysis, and we get a detection result, and then what concentrations," Goetz told WUWM.
Goetz says the analyzer costs about a half-million dollars, but is paying dividends.
"The perk of this instrumentation is it's allowing our run times to be shorter. So our analysis is quicker. Sample preparation is also quicker. And we have lower detection limits with this piece of instrumentation, as well as being able to detect and confirm more analytes within our scope," Goetz said.
An analyte is a chemical substance.
To operate this and other machines at the three crime labs and do other work, Attorney General Kaul is seeking four more toxicology positions, ten more DNA experts, and two more crime scene responders.
During a news conference, Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper, a Republican, gave her support to Kaul's budget proposal, saying staffing and technology must keep growing.
"That's the expectation of our communities, and the expectation of our crime victims, certainly, is that we are going to do everything we can, using science and using the skills of the Crime Lab to not only solve the cases, but be successful in the courtroom," Opper said.
Another Republican, Ozaukee County Sheriff Christy Knowles, said some drug cases in her community have been waiting more than 12 months for analysis.
"This problem can be solved. We know what it takes. You all know what it takes. We have to get this in the budget and get more analysts for our Crime Lab," Knowles said.
Kaul's fellow Democrat, Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to fund nine of the 16 new positions the Attorney General wants. So, WUWM asked Kaul how satisfied he is with Evers' proposal.
"Having gone through the budget process a few times, we're certainly happy with any support at whatever level for the labs. It's our hope given the historic surplus we have in the state right now, that this is a time when we will see the legislature take this opportunity to make a significant investment in the crime labs. These opportunities don't come around every budget cycle," Kaul replied.
WUWM couldn't reach Republican legislative leaders for comments about the proposed Crime Lab budget. But in Madison this week, Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair, Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) cautioned against too many requests to spend what could be a $7 billion state budget surplus.
"The $7 billion surplus we've got. It's been spent multiple times already based on the requests we've heard from people," Marklein remarked.
Final decisions on Crime Lab staffing are expected this spring.