Montana State Crime Lab is backed up for months with work


KALISPELL, Mont. - Criminal evidence is used to put criminals in jail, but with only one crime lab in Montana, there's pressure to get evidence analyzed quickly.

Many local law enforcement agencies have had to experience the delay firsthand.

It's no surprise that the crime lab is busy. With 35 workers and more than 100 law enforcement agencies in the state, the turnaround takes a little while.

"Certainly they don't have enough staff to analyze things within a few-day period, so the backlog can be weeks to, on occasion, months," said Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.

Right now it's months -- from 6 to 9 months -- before workers process the evidence so prosecutors can do their jobs.

We found out one reason for the delay; the crime lab's chemistry department has hired new staff.

"We're now in a position of training those new hires and bringing them on board to start doing some of the case work," said Phil Kinsey, Division Administrator for the Forensic Science Lab.

The chemistry lab handles things like drug analysis, which could possibly back up and delay drug prosecution.

Other things factor in, like the kind of evidence, like DNA, and the number of cases.

Little wonder law enforcement officials realize they can't get everything done at once.

"One thing we've got to realize is that we have one crime lab for the entire state. They do a great job with all the evidence they get in throughout the entire state, getting it back out in a timely manner," said Kalispell Police Investigative Captain Scott Warnell.

Kalispell police are waiting on evidence sent in one month ago, from an apparent murder-suicide in Kalispell. While the investigation is wrapped up, nothing's finalized until the crime lab finishes its work.

"We'll also prioritize based upon importance. In a major case, if we call them and say 'This is a big deal,' we'll get stuff back a little more quickly," said Curry.

Until then, local law enforcement will have to be patient and expect a waiting period.

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