Proposition 20 would benefit local police |

Proposition 20 would benefit local police

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department is still searching for a 60-year-old woman who disappeared in the summer of 1997 and the effort to find her has been slowed to a crawl by an overworked forensic laboratory.

It took the California Department of Justice more than a year to analyze DNA evidence found in the hotel room where the woman was living, and while the case is still open the woman may have died since her abduction, according to Sgt. Tom Conner.

The slow analysis of crucial evidence in this case, and in thousands of others, is why dozens of law enforcement officials across the state are urging voters to pass Proposition 15 in the March 7 statewide primary.

If passed, the proposition will allow the state to sell bonds worth $220 million in order to pay for the construction of new local crime labs, which are not operated by the Department of Justice.

It will also pay for the renovation of the state’s 19 existing local laboratories and provide money to improve the Department of Justice’s DNA testing facility, according to Mike Van Winkle of the Department of Justice.

Supporters of the bill say passing the proposition is crucial for the quicker apprehension of criminals. Opponents claim it is part of the “orgy of spending” by the state.

The proposal was put on the ballot after it was approved by the state legislature. It would cost the state $377 million over the next 25 years.

“This will fix up a number of sheriffs’ crime labs throughout the state, (which) are all dilapidated and all need work,” El Dorado County Sheriff Hal Barker said. “Look at all that stuff with O.J. Simpson. You know that lab needs work.”

While El Dorado County could apply for funds to build a crime lab, “there are absolutely no plans to bring one here,” Barker said. “It is so expensive, it doesn’t make any sense.”

And South Lake Tahoe Interim City Manager Sue Schlerf said building a crime lab “has not been a topic of discussion.”

Even though there will be no direct benefit to El Dorado County, local law enforcement agencies will benefit from the improvements, according to Conner.

“Almost every agency in the state sends its things to the Department of Justice and you can imagine how backed up they can get,” he said.

The improvements will increase the speed with which forensic evidence is analyzed and will be well worth the cost, Conner added.

Opponents, including the Libertarian Party of California and Calaveras County Supervisor Thomas Tryon, strongly disagree. Pointing out that the use of bonds will almost double the overall cost of the proposition and that labs should have been built with money from the $4 billion budget surplus.

Tryon promotes the use of private facilities and said in a statement that taxpayers lose when the government becomes involved in building projects.

“Send a message to legislators,” the statement said. “There should be some punishment for squandering a hefty budget surplus instead of refunding it to taxpayers.”

The proposition is supported by numerous California law enforcement agencies that state it routinely takes as much as two months to analyze crucial crime scene evidence.

“That is pretty standard,” Conner said. “And if they are really hammered it could take even longer.”

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