Aurora, counties creating joint crime lab to speed evidence processing

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AURORA | A joint crime lab shared by Aurora police and two area sheriff’s offices could be a done deal by the end of the year, city officials say.

For almost a year Aurora Police Department, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office and the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office have been discussing building a joint crime lab officials say could help ease an evidence-testing backlog that law enforcement often faces.

Now, with a lengthy feasibility study of the project complete, officials say they could hammer out an agreement on the new $14 million facility by the end of 2016.

“Everything should be signed and sealed, we hope, by the end of the year,” Aurora city Councilwoman Barb Cleland said last week.

Aurora police and Douglas County Undersheriff Holly Nicholson-Kluth discussed the matter with council’s Public Safety Committee last week.

Nicholson-Kluth said officials have already chosen a parcel of land for the project in the Meridian development near the Arapahoe County and Douglas County line.

Cleland said city council will likely sign an intergovernmental agreement detailing the arrangement in the coming months.

Law enforcement across the region say they often face delays when trying to test evidence.

For some gun cases, Aurora police send evidence to the Denver Police Department’s crime lab to be analyzed, but that, too, can take a while, police say.

In Arapahoe County, officials have said that because of the DNA backlog, in some lower-level cases like burglaries, investigators don’t bother testing DNA because it can take so long to get the results back.

According to a memo detailing the joint project, Douglas County would cover $13 million of the initial $14 million to build the facility. Aurora would chip in $1.4 million while Arapahoe County would pay about $400,000.

After that, Aurora — which is the biggest agency involved and which officials have said would likely account for the bulk of the cases — would pay more of the annual operating costs than the other agencies. According to the memo, Aurora would pay about $900,000 each year, Arapahoe about $600,000, Douglas about $250,000 and the DA’s office about $160,000.

The facility would have a staff of 35 people, including criminalists, a handwriting analyst and DNA technicians. Of those, 15 would be from Aurora police.