Big Isle crime lab
gets $485,000

The funds will provide new
equipment and additional staffing

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> The crime laboratory of the Hawaii County Police Department has $485,000 in federal grant money coming to it, but the facility will not feel the benefit until the end of the year, laboratory head Kenneth Saito said.

The money consists of two grants to be used in drug testing, he said.

One is for $350,000 for new lab equipment and to hire two additional criminalists to operate the equipment, Saito said. The other, also for operations, is for $135,000, to be matched by the county with $45,000, he said.

The grants are just the beginning of what Saito needs. There is no space for new equipment, and more funding is needed for more space, he said.

When the two criminalists are hired, operations may actually be slowed because present staff will have to teach them their jobs, he said.

Some of the present equipment is 10 years old, which means not only that it keep breaking down, but also that it is outdated technology.

"We've just been kind of Band-Aiding the things," he said.

For example, the lab staff has to "baby-sit" old equipment when it is operating, while new equipment can operate on its own, Saito said.

The lab is so backlogged that Saito says he does not even keep track of the numbers, but he knows he is at least several months behind.

The need for fast information on drug seizures is going to increase with the creation of new drug courts, he said.

The emphasis will be on prosecuting "frequent fliers," the suspects who keep getting arrested over and over, he said.

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