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Costs for EPPD crime lab under scrutiny

By: Genevieve Curtis

EL PASO, Texas--City leaders put the costs for the El Paso Police Department crime lab under the microscope.

The lab currently outsources its work to a private company after it withdrew its accreditation last year and the $2.5 million contract extends until 2017.

"Right now the taxpayers (of the city) are paying for 100 percent of that and I just don't think that's fair," said City Rep. Dr. Michiel Noe.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza argued there is a lot of give and take between the city and the county when it comes to the justice system. Ninety percent of his cases come from the city plus the county pays for the jail and judges.

"To the question of,  'Are city taxpayers getting taken advantage of?' I just totally disagree. I think that we all share our costs," said Esparza.

Taxpayers already fund the Department of  Public Safety crime lab and Noe said the city should be tapping into that resource

"That's what we are paying the state for," said Noe.

But police said the state isn't testing quickly enough or turning results around in a timely manner.

"The contract we have now we are getting a turnaround in less than five days. If we were to go to DPS they are saying their average time is 42 days. In some cases, it's taking 90," said Assistant Chief of Police Michelle Gardner.

That delay could lead to a break in the links of justice.

"If we were to move to a system where we sent everything to DPS, DPS cannot accommodate the workload at the moment and what that would do is delay the processing of the case," said Esparza.

Still, all agree they could look for ways to share costs. Tuesday, council decided to continue funding the crime lab as is for now. But come next budget cycle, all entities plan to re-evaluate opportunities to cut down on costs.

Then, the question of who pays for what will certainly be put to the test.