December 03, 2017 10:35 PM
Two Hennepin County commissioners have proposed moving management of the county crime lab from the sheriff's office to the administrator's office, a major change that has received push back from Sheriff Rich Stanek.
The commissioners presented the change as part of a recent budget amendment.
In the proposal, Commissioners Marion Greene and Linda Higgins said there could be “potential savings to taxpayers in operating and capital costs related to equipment and technology” used in the crime lab.
In addition to transferring management authority, the proposal also includes possible “discussions with the City of Minneapolis to determine the feasibility of sharing space and services to meet future forensic services needs in the most cost efficient and effective manner.”
Stanek said he does not agree with the plan, adding, “It would not save taxpayers money, and it puts bureaucrats in charge of the crime lab instead of law enforcement, which is bad public policy.
“This has the potential to lead to increased response times to crime scenes for rapes, robberies and murders," Stanek said. "And it will create longer turnaround times for evidence processing, along with the possibility of new fees to pay for crime lab services.”
Stanek sent a letter to every police chief, mayor, city council member and city manager in Hennepin County urging them to lobby against the proposal before the Hennepin County Board.
Stanek also said he thinks there is some political motivation behind the proposed crime lab shakeup that goes beyond budgetary questions or concerns.
“Our crime lab is only a couple hundred feet away from the new Vikings stadium, and the team has wanted to buy this land for some time and the county has wanted to sell it for a while, too," Stanek said. "And I think the commissioners see me as standing in the way of the deal.”
Stanek also expressed frustration with the proposal's timing, as it emerged in early December, less than a month before the budget faces a vote.
“This is a last-minute, low-level trick at the end of the day, in order to remove operations of the crime lab away from the county sheriff and to the county board,” Stanek said.
Higgins said she was unable to conduct an interview with KSTP, but did issue a statement about her proposal:
“Regionalization of crime lab services has been studied three-plus times in the past twenty years, most recently in 2010 and 2016. Both of those studies, conducted by national experts, suggest that the county partner with Minneapolis to expand taxpayer-paid criminal lab services, and to ensure independent expertise, much like the independence of the county's nation-leading regional medical examiner. The timing is right because both Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis are poised to replace two outdated facilities. This policy decision is happening like other county policy considerations: the board brings it forward after significant analysis, discusses it publicly with evaluation of other points of view, and a decision is made in a public meeting which can be watched on MCN Channel 6 and streamed live. The Hennepin County board takes seriously all the decisions we make on behalf of county residents. We work hard to consider all factors, to make the best decisions possible.”
Commissioner Greene was out of town and unable to comment.
The Hennepin County Board holds a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday at 1 p.m., before it takes a vote to include the item in the 2018 budget.
Updated: December 03, 2017 10:35 PM
Created: December 03, 2017 08:58 PM
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