Bonds to fund renovations at the state crime laboratory in Moultrie will be sold next month, with work beginning soon after that, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced Thursday.
Officials have said that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation laboratory, closed March 31, should reopen in early 2011. The laboratory initially was closed as the state wrangled with a budget crunch.
During brief remarks Thursday at the laboratory to a group that included law enforcement officers, Cagle said that keeping the laboratory, the only one in South Georgia, is important to the state’s criminal justice system.
“The sheriffs and police officers here in this room cannot do their job without this crime lab,” he said. “This crime lab represents access,” he said.
Atkinson County Sheriff David Moore told the group that an arrest in an unsolved murder in Willacoochee, the first there in 40 years, may have been delayed because of the closing of the laboratory.
“If this facility had been open, who knows how much sooner this lab work could have been done and we could have locked up a murderer?” he said. “As it is, we’ve still got a murderer walking loose in Willacoochee.”
Following the ceremony, Commission Chairman Benny Alderman said that Cagle, along with local state senators and representatives, were instrumental in making the reopening of the laboratory a reality.
“This is a great thing for us,” Alderman said. “He (Cagle), in my opinion, doesn’t see north Georgia and south Georgia. That’s the main thing. He just works with everybody real well.”
Legislators restored funding to the budget earlier this year, but Gov. Sonny Perdue, who signed the state budget without vetoing the laboratory funding, instructed the GBI to nevertheless close laboratories in Columbus and Moultrie.
During questioning from reporters, Cagle declined to say how he convinced the governor to change his mind on the issue.
Keeping the laboratory in South Georgia “is very important, money-wise and time-wise,” Mitchell County Sheriff W.E. Bozeman said.
The GBI began in August using the facility in August as a drop-off point for area law enforcement agencies to deliver evidence for transport to other agency facilities.
Cagle also addressed Thursday the closing of the community mental health facility in Moultrie.
Georgia Pines Community Services eliminated counseling and medication services in Moultrie last year after its budget was drastically cut.
The closing of local mental health treatment programs is being felt in the state, including the crowding of jails that are not equipped to handle the increase in mentally ill inmates, Cagle said.
“We’ve got to have real community-based solutions,” he said. “Incarceration is not really the appropriate action. It’s making sure they have medication, they have treatment. Addressing mental health has been one of the greatest challenges in our state.”