June 18--NEWARK, Ohio -- For years, an officer has been the person testing many of the confiscated drugs that come into the Newark Police Department. Working in a small lab, the officer studies the drug's appearance, applies a chemical to see how it reacts, and then, if possible, identifies it.
It's a process that has always been accepted by Licking County courts, said Newark Police Chief Steve Sarver, but even the officer wasn't sure it was the most-accurate way to do things.
That's why Sarver has proposed that Newark police bring aboard a trained chemist, who would be the department's only forensic scientist. The City Council plans to vote on Sarver's recommendation today.
The idea came after a winter visit from Ohio's Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which toured labs across the state to gauge what they were doing and how they might improve, said BCI Superintendent Tom Stickrath. The stop at Newark's lab, one of the smallest of about 18 public labs in Ohio, led to discussions about new equipment and training.
"These sciences are continuing to evolve, as are we," Stickrath said.
State officials promised the chief a $60,000 gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, which can better identify chemicals, and training on the machine if he hired a chemist. Sarver agreed to try. He found an opening after an officer retired this month.
"There's a better way to do it, probably a more-precise way. I'm not going to dig in my heels," Sarver said. "The only thing I'm losing is a police officer, and I'm gaining a chemist."
Most cities Newark's size don't have a lab to test drugs. Delaware sends all its drugs to BCI for testing, and Lancaster in Fairfield County sends out everything but marijuana.
Sending out drugs, though, can mean waits of months for the results. The local lab can turn samples around in hours, well in advance of grand-jury sessions.
A forensic scientist would allow Newark to analyze all its drugs, and possibly blood and urine samples as well, Sarver said. The city, which also tests drugs for other agencies, could expand that service, potentially reducing the backlog at other labs.
The job, if the council approves it, would start at $40,000 a year.
Copyright 2012 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio