NHC Commissioners agrees to fund a forensic chemist to handle drug cases

NHC Commissioners agrees to fund a forensic chemist to handle drug cases

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The New Hanover Board of Commissioners approved funding Monday to pay a forensic chemist to work for the Wilmington Police Department to assist in expediting high profile drug cases.

According to a proposal in the Commissioners' meeting minutes, the cost would be $41,729 for the rest of Fiscal Year 2014-15. Commissioners agreed to fund the position at the amount of  $83,459 per year, as spelled out in an agreement with the City of Wilmington running through Fiscal Year 2017-18.

The Wilmington Police Department's forensic lab provides blood alcohol analysis services to 16 local and state law enforcement agencies, primarily in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties. The lab currently staffs one full-time chemist, one part-time chemist, and one part-time forensic technologist, but Attorney Benjamin David has emphasized the pressing need for one more.

In a written request to the board, David said the "addition of the chemist will lead to serious drug offenders being sentenced in a more timely manner, making our community a safer place for our citizens."

Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous wrote in a proposal that the police department's lab isn't staffed to prioritize narcotics testing and pending drug cases for the entire county, which is why he proposes the county fund a full-time forensic chemist to be employed by the lab.

WPD Lab Manager Bethany Pridgen said the chemists handle narcotics cases within the city on a case-by-case basis, but all of the county cases are submitted to the State Bureau of investigations which can take several months before results are materialized.

She said shifting that responsibility to a local level, would not only save time and money, but also prove to be a safety benefit to New Hanover County residents.

"If you have a high-priority offender who potentially is out on bail, and they're waiting for lab results from the state lab for months to a year, they can continue to re-offense," Pridgen explained. "By the time they get to that first court date, they may be able to plea out to four offenses instead of just the one charge being taken care of. So, it's really a safety issue."

Chief Evangelous concurred with Pridgen.

"Criminal trials can be conducted in a timelier manner, which will result in the incarceration of dangerous offenders. Additionally, offenders being sentenced to the State's prison system or the Federal prison system would shift the cost of housing those offenders awaiting trial away from local tax payers," Evangelous wrote.

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