State Crime Lab to cut operating hours

State Crime Lab to cut operating hours
State Crime Lab/Photo credit: WDAM archives

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - The State Crime Lab in Jackson will soon be operating with a shorter work day.

Starting April 1, the State Medical Examiner's Office will not be accepting or releasing patients from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily, including 12 to 1 p.m. for lunch, due to current staffing issues.

"I do worry that there could be some public concerns about the integrity of the remains being as they are not taken directly from the scene to the crime lab," Lamar County Coroner Cody Creel said.

Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict echoed that concern.

"I would rather take the evidence from the scene with the body straight to Jackson and there's no in-between, there's nothing that can be lost or any evidence that may be tampered with," Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict said.

Coroners, deputy coroners and transporters all received a letter from the State Crime Lab Monday with the following:

"Beginning April 1, 2016 the State Medical Examiner's Office will be closed from 11:0 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. daily. We will not be admitting or releasing patients during this time due to current staffing unavailability. Please call during normal business hours (7:00 a.m. through 11:00 p.m.). We are also closed from 12:00 p.m. until 1:00 p.m. during lunch hour."

"The medical examiner's office received six bodies during that time frame in all of last year (2015) combined," Department of Public Safety Spokesperson Warren Strain said. "It's just not cost effective to have someone there around the clock, just waiting on something to happen."

Strain added that in any extenuating circumstance, the state will do anything it can to accommodate whatever issue or problem comes up.

"From day one, the budget is what is concerning about the State Crime Lab and the medical examiner's office and if that's the issue, I think the legislators need to come together to fund it," Benedict said. "Unfortunately, the crime lab is something that's not going to produce money for the state."

Creel is one coroner who has access to a freezer that gives his office a little leeway.

"It doesn't necessarily affect us directly, we have a temporary morgue facility that we have the ability to store bodies for up to several days, before either the family determines which funeral home or that body can be sent on to the crime lab," Creel said.

Creel and Benedict both raised concerns over the integrity of the investigation, regarding evidence and the time frame when a homicide or another criminal matter is involved.

"As far as the integrity of the investigation, waiting six hours or so, we (DPS) don't feel like it will impact the investigation," Strain said.

Benedict said, "The crime lab is something that's in dire need of when it comes to protecting the rights of the individuals that have been harmed in some way, and justice can be served when there is a complete autopsy done in a timely manner."