After successfully fighting to save the state crime lab in Bowling Green last year, it appears the case is not closed.
|BCII office in BG's Greenwood Center on East Wooster Street. (J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Local officials have learned that the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation may move its regional lab from East Wooster Street to the University of Toledo's Health Science Campus.
"We don't want it to go," Wood County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson said Monday about the possible move.
Dobson and other local officials have been informed that Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, had received a federal grant to study the possibility of moving the lab from Bowling Green to Toledo.
In response, local officials spoke with Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who assured that no decision had been made.
"The attorney general made it very clear to me that this does not mean it is going to move," Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said. "He assured me it is only a study."
However, the language in Kaptur's funding request does not mention a study.
"This is for $450,000. This is not a study," said State Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green.
The request calls for money for the "planning phase" of creating a regional forensic lab, as a joint project between the University of Toledo School of Medicine, Ohio Attorney General and Lucas County Coroner.
Steve Fought, a spokesperson for Kaptur, said Monday that the funding is to move the lab to Toledo - "that's just the way it is."
"If it was Congresswoman Kaptur's decision to make, the lab would be in Toledo now," Fought said.
However, he added that ultimately the decision is up to the state's attorney general.
"I wouldn't say it's a done deal," Fought said.
And as far as Cordray is concerned, the deal is far from done, according to Ted Hart, a spokesperson for the attorney general.
"There are no plans to close or move the Bowling Green facility. We are eager to work with Rep. Kaptur's office to explore ways to enhance services for law enforcement in Northwest Ohio and to provide opportunities for students," Hart said.
Gardner questioned the sum of nearly half a million dollars to simply conduct a study.
"It is hard to understand why $450,000 of taxpayer funds would be spent to study this issue," he said. "Why not bring sheriffs, police chiefs, current BCI and attorney general's staff, and local and university officials together first and at no cost to decide what is needed and where improvements could be made in our crime investigatory efforts?"
Moving the BCII lab to Toledo would be a crime, according to Wood County officials. The proposed site near the former Medical Colleges of Ohio is difficult to get to, and inconvenient for the other 22 counties that use the lab in the region, Dobson said.
"That's not easy for anybody to get to," he said.
That is in contrast to the Bowling Green site, which is less than a half mile from Interstate 75.
"They can access is readily," Dobson said of law enforcement from throughout the region.
The majority of the evidence taken to the lab for testing comes from Lucas, Wood and Allen counties. Though Toledo Police Department has its own lab, when the move was suggested last year, it had only two or three scientists and only conducted ballistics and narcotics tests. All other evidence is submitted to the BCII lab in Bowling Green, which has an estimated 30 employees.
According to Hart, BCII will conduct a needs assessment of its current facilities, which includes three full-service labs in Bowling Green, London and Richfield. There are also three regional full-service labs in Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati. The survey will examine the need for BCII to expand its partnership with Toledo-Lucas County and a university to enhance laboratory teaching.
Gardner said Monday evening that he was pleased the attorney general's office has no plans in place to move the crime lab.
"In short, it appears this is not an attempt to resurrect the original 'Marc Dann plan' as some have feared," Gardner said, referring to the previous attorney general who proposed the lab be moved - with no input from regional officials. "The previous attorney general proposed replacing the Bowling Green lab with a new one in Toledo without consulting regional law enforcement, and he failed."
When Cordray took over as attorney general, he said he had no opinion on the lab moving. However, he stated, "when you have an office and it's working correctly, you don't really want to upset the apple cart."
Perhaps a better option, he added, would be to add more BCII access points and offices around the state.
The last time the move was proposed, regional officials united to protest the move. As word spread Monday about the possible move, officials again started "circling the wagons," Wasylyshyn said.
"Wood County is very passionate about it staying in Wood County," the sheriff said.