After spending more than $138,000 over the past year on planning and studies, Salt Lake City and West Valley City are working toward developing a new joint crime lab and evidence center.
Officials for both cities declined to release a study of the project, saying it still was in a draft form and it's unclear how the cities plan to fund the new building, among other questions.
Still, both departments say the time is near for new facilities. The current Salt Lake City police crime lab is aging and inefficient, according to officials, and the state crime lab is bogged with a backlog of cases streaming in from some 140 agencies.
Salt Lake City Deputy Police Chief Tim Doubt said the departments need the space for a crime lab and evidence center, and they are working toward a joint proposal.
"We do have the square footage numbers pretty well nailed down, and we know the functions we want in those buildings," Doubt said. "Now we have to get all the specialized equipment, specialized plumbing and stuff like that."
Doubt said in a recent interview that after voters turned down a $192 million bond in 2007 for the city's new Public Safety Building, the city scaled back the request and cut out plans for a new crime lab, among other facilities. Voters in 2009 passed a $125 million bond for the new building, set for completion early this summer.
The draft study now in city officials' hands cost Salt Lake about $89,000, with West Valley paying $49,440, according to city documents. It's unclear how the cities would split funding for the building, but the groups say the project is still in the planning phase.
West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said the city would consider seeking federal funding for part or all of the project.
"We're talking with the federal delegation about some support for this," Winder said. "This would fill an important need for both of our cities in helping us process cases quicker."
West Valley City Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell said the idea is for better, speedier investigations from both departments. He wouldn't go into details about what the department wants included in the project.
"Our thoughts and ideas were if we were to combine and work together with Salt Lake City … then we would be able to better serve both the communities," Powell said.
Salt Lake will leave its crime lab and forensic employees, some of whom perform investigative functions, in their current office for the foreseeable future, while the rest of the department moves into the new public safety building.
Then the employees will await final plans set for completion late this summer and the city will look for a way to pay for another new building, in conjunction with West Valley City.
"The study is complete up to the level of a draft," said Jim McClaren, senior principal at Arizona-based McClaren, Wilson and Lawrie Inc., which designed the Public Safety Building and studied the proposed crime lab.
McClaren's company specializes in public safety and other government buildings nationwide. Many of the new projects, including the Public Safety Building in Salt Lake, are considered environmentally friendly.
The departments and McClaren will now work with Salt Lake-based MOCA Systems on room-by-room design and budgeting for the proposal.
Doubt said the department has evidence in three buildings in the capital city, including its headquarters downtown. Leaving the forensic employees in the old headquarters would be a bad move, he said.
"I still have to completely heat this whole building. That's the urgency. We're really throwing money away just leaving [the evidence and crime lab] here," Doubt said, adding that heating costs for the building are significant.
Salt Lake doesn't have a DNA unit in its crime lab and would like to add it into the proposed new facility. For investigative services it can't do on its own, it uses outside labs like the state Department of Public Safety or private contractors like Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake.
"The reason we want to do a lab is so we don't have to pay Sorenson the exorbitant fees they charge us," Doubt said.
After the proposed design is completed the groups set a goal for Labor Day the departments will work with city councils to make plans for funding the proposal.
Crime lab workload
Salt Lake City's crime lab handles everything from crime-scene processing to marijuana testing and firearms identification.
Last year, the lab fielded 8,778 callouts and 864 requests for lab exams.
The state crime lab, which serves 140 agencies, processes about 10,000 pieces of evidence annually. The backlog means a slow turnaround for work that doesn't involve priority violent felony cases.
Source: Salt Lake Police Department, state Public Safety.